European Council agrees to improve protection of workers from asbestos

December 19, 2022

[Europe] Ministers of employment have settled their position on a proposal to tighten European Union (EU) legislation protecting workers from the risks of asbestos.

The Council position – on the basis of which it will negotiate with the European Parliament – is that the current exposure levels should be lowered and that asbestos fibre-counting should be carried out on the basis of a more modern method. This is part of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

If agreed, the new rules would ensure that no worker is exposed to a concentration of more than 0.01 fibres of asbestos per cm³. This is a tenfold decrease compared to the value currently in force.

Member States also decided to use a more modern and sensitive method for counting asbestos fibres, for example electron microscopy (EM). Member States would have seven years to comply with the new methodology requirements, in order to allow enough time for a successful transition from the current measuring method, phase-contrast microscopy (PCM), to the new EM method.

The Commission would be tasked to support Member States during this switch of measuring method. During the transition period the measuring methods currently in use may remain in place.

In September of this year, the Commission presented a proposal to revise the directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to the exposure to asbestos at work. The measure is one of the flagship initiatives of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

Before becoming law, the Council and the European Parliament need to agree on a joint position on the proposed revision. The Parliament is still in the process of defining its stance.

Although asbestos has been banned in the EU since 2005 it remains present in older buildings. As much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in EU Member States are said to be related to asbestos.

 

This is valid as of 19th December 2022.

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