Today the European Parliament voted unanimously in favour of strengthening worker protection against asbestos.
Despite being banned since 2005, asbestos still claims up to 90,000 lives in Europe annually, accounting for 55-85% of occupational lung cancers. With millions of older European buildings set to be ’climate renovated’ over the next decade, ensuring protection for workers from this silent killer is vital.
Left MEP, Nikolaj Villumsen (Red-Green Alliance, Denmark) said: “From construction workers to firefighters, today’s vote marks a clear victory in the protection of all of those Europeans who may be exposed to asbestos via their work. So ensuring a strong and comprehensive asbestos reform has been paramount.”
In 2021, Nikolaj Villumsen drafted a legislative initiative calling for a European strategy for the Removal of All Asbestos. In September 2022, the Commission put forward a package on asbestos which mainly concerned lowering the occupational exposure limit. The level recommended by the Commission (0.01 fibres/cm3) was 10 times higher than what trade unions and the European Parliament were calling for.
The Parliament was successful in improving the European Commission’s initial proposal both in terms of the level of exposure and by taking a comprehensive approach to protecting workers.
“I am particularly happy about these five key points: lowering the limit value to 1% of current EU-levels; modernizing how we measure asbestos; improving training and education for those who perform the measurements; requiring certification of companies handling asbestos; and ensuring screening of buildings for asbestos,” continued Villumsen.
The Parliament will now enter into negotiations with the European Council in a process known as trilogues. This strong position from the Parliament is crucial to achieving legislation that serves workers.
“Sadly we know that some Member States are satisfied with a limit value 10 times higher than what we propose, with outdated methods of measuring and less stringent approaches on training and certification. This is what we will be up against next,” said Villumsen.