Today, the European Parliament voted to improve the EU’s rules on asbestos. Here are 5 things you need to know about why we needed new rules and how they will protect workers.

1. Asbestos is the main cause of work related deaths

Every year, asbestos kills around 90,000 people in the EU. Asbestos is a carcinogenic material used in many products, including insulation and many construction materials.

Its fibers are microscopic, hundreds of times thinner than a human hair. When it’s inhaled or ingested, asbestos can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and non-malignant pleural disease.

2. Despite being banned in the EU, it’s still present in 35 million buildings

In 2005, the EU banned asbestos but it didn’t get rid of the problem. Now, the European Green Deal and the EU’s Beating Cancer provide a new impetus to finally remove asbestos from all buildings.

3. The Left pressured the European Commission to propose new rules to protect workers

The European Parliament is the only parliament in the world that cannot propose laws. But it can put pressure on the Commission to act. Left MEP Nikolaj Villumsen (Red-Green Alliance, Denmark) drafted a report, together with trade unions, calling for improved protections for workers. It was adopted in October 2021. In response, the Commission presented its package on asbestos in September 2022.

4. New rules will protect millions of workers

The new law will reduce the legal exposure limit and includes improved measuring methods. Provisions include mandatory training and authorisation for companies handling asbestos and there are stricter requirements for outdoor and short-term work with asbestos. A mandatory requirement for screenings before renovation and demolition is not within the scope of the directive, but the Commission committed to proposing new rules this autumn.

5. This is just the beginning – removing ALL asbestos remains our goal

The removal of all asbestos remains the ultimate goal. The Left calls on the Commission to put forward the next piece of legislation as promised, on mandatory screening and registration of asbestos in buildings – to put the life and health of Europe’s workers before short-term profits.

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