Asbestos is a highly dangerous, cancer-causing substance that is still present in many of our buildings and is responsible for many avoidable deaths in the EU. Today, the Commission presents a comprehensive approach to better protect people and the environment from asbestos and ensure an asbestos-free future.
The package includes:
- A Communication on working towards an asbestos-free future, tackling asbestos in a comprehensive way, from improving diagnoses and treatment of diseases caused by asbestos, to identification and safe removal and waste treatment of asbestos; and
- A proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive to improve workers’ protection by significantly lowering the occupational exposure limit to asbestos.
Although all forms of asbestos are banned in the EU since 2005, asbestos remains present in older buildings. It poses a health threat, particularly when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and fibres are released and inhaled, for instance during renovations.
As much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in the Member States are related to asbestos. When inhaled, airborne asbestos fibres can lead, for example, to mesothelioma and lung cancer, with an average lag of 30 years between exposure and the first signs of disease.
Therefore, addressing the health risks of exposure to asbestos is essential to protect people’s health and the environment, while ensuring decent living and working conditions. This is even more relevant in the context of the green transition and our EU ambition to increase the renovation rate of buildings. Renovations will improve the health and living conditions for residents, and reduce their energy bills. However, they will also increase the risks of exposure to asbestos, in particular for construction workers.
The actions put forward today are part of the prevention pillar of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, the Zero-Pollution Action Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Working towards an asbestos-free future for all
To protect people from exposure to asbestos and prevent risks for future generations, the Commission sets out a comprehensive public health approach to:
- Better support victims of asbestos-related diseases.
- The Commission will consult the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work on including additional asbestos-related diseases as occupational diseases; and
- The Commission has proposed A new EU approach on cancer detection, which includes an update to the 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening
- Better protect workers from asbestos. The Commission will:
- propose today a revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive to significantly lower the occupational exposure limit value to asbestos;
- update guidelines to support Member States, employers and workers in implementing the revised Directive; and
- launch an awareness-raising campaign on the safe removal of asbestos.
- Improve information on asbestos in buildings. The Commission will:
- put forward a legislative proposal on the screening and registration of asbestos in buildings. Member States will be asked to develop national strategies for the removal of asbestos; and
- propose a regulatory approach to introduce digital building logbooks for better sharing and use of building-related data, from design to construction and demolition.
- Ensure safe disposal of asbestos and zero pollution. The Commission will:
- revise the EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol, and the Guidelines for the waste audits before demolition and renovation works of buildings; and
- launch a study to identify asbestos waste management practices and new treatment technologies.
Significant EU funding is available to support Member States in health prevention, treatment, renovations and safe asbestos removal through the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the European Social Fund Plus and the European Regional Development Fund.
The EU will also continue to play a leading role in the global fight against asbestos, for instance in the context of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, the International Labour Organization, G7 and G20.
Protecting workers from exposure to asbestos
Workers are at greatest risk of being exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. To improve their protection, the Commission presents today a proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive. This includes a reduction in the exposure limit of asbestos at work to 10 times lower than the current value (from 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre (f/cm³) to 0.01 f/cm³), based on the latest scientific and technological developments.
Together with awareness-raising and other improvements in health prevention and treatment, this proposal will bring us closer to our EU aim of beating cancer. It also creates a level playing field for businesses operating across the EU, while decreasing health care costs related to medical treatment.
The Commission calls upon all EU institutions, Member States, social partners and other stakeholders to accelerate action to achieve an asbestos-free EU for current and future generations. The Commission’s proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive will be discussed by the European Parliament and Member States, with the Commission calling for a swift approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law.
Members of the College said
Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said:
“Last year we made a commitment before the European Parliament to address the important calls to action in its report on protecting workers from asbestos. One year later, the Commission is presenting a series of measures that will not only offer better protection to workers, but will take a huge step towards an asbestos-free Europe. 78% of occupational cancers recognised in the Member States are related to asbestos. The amending Directive we propose today will drastically reduce exposure levels for workers, and provide training and guidance to employers.”
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said:
“Prevention is more effective than any treatment against cancer. With 40% if cancers being preventable, it is the most efficient long-term strategy. As part of the actions under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, we aim to significantly contribute to cancer prevention by reducing the exposure to hazardous substances – asbestos is one of them. Today’s proposals are another important deliverable of our Cancer Plan and another step in our work to build a strong European Health Union.”
The actions presented in today’s Communication follow up to the European Parliament’s resolution of 20 October 2021 on protecting workers from asbestos. This is in line with the commitment of President von der Leyen in her Political Guidelines to respond to resolutions under Article 225 TFEU appropriately, in full respect of proportionality, subsidiarity and better law making principles.
Effectively reducing exposure to carcinogenic substances such as asbestos is part of the Commission’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and Zero-Pollution Action Plan. In its 2022 Work Programme and in the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, the Commission announced a proposal to lower the existing occupational exposure limit to asbestos. EU citizens also highlighted the importance of a revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Today’s proposal is the result of an extensive consultation process, taking into account a two-stage consultation of social partners, as well as close collaboration with scientists, representatives of workers, employers, and Member States.
Occupational cancer is the first cause of work-related deaths in the EU, with as much as 78% of recognised occupational cancers related to asbestos. In 2019 alone, more than 70,000 people in the EU died from past exposure to asbestos at work. It is estimated that 4.1 to 7.3 million workers are currently exposed to asbestos, with 97% working in construction and 2% in waste management. To eliminate the risks stemming from asbestos, EU has taken action over the past 40 years to limit and then ban all use of asbestos in 2005.
Nevertheless, given that over 220 million building units were built before the ban, it is likely that many still contain asbestos and pose a health threat. It is also still necessary to manage and dispose asbestos waste. The Renovation Wave Strategy, aiming to at least double the annual rate of building renovations by 2030, further underlines the importance of a comprehensive approach to tackling the asbestos. The proposal for a revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, presented in December 2021, also underlines that Member States should support energy performance upgrades of existing buildings to contribute to achieving a healthy indoor environment, including through the removal of hazardous substances like asbestos.
For More Information
Source – EU Commission
Q&A: Towards an asbestos-free future
Brussels, 28 September 2022
What is asbestos and why do we need to be protected from it?
Asbestos is a highly dangerous substance which can cause cancer and other illnesses. Environmental and occupational exposure to asbestos is known to contribute to the high burden of cancer, causing many avoidable deaths. 78% of cancers recognised as occupational cancer in the EU are related to asbestos. In 2019 alone, more than 70,000 workers died from past exposure to asbestos in the EU. The average time between initial asbestos exposure and the first signs of disease is about 30 years. Addressing the health risks stemming from exposure to asbestos is therefore part of the actions under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
Since 2005, all use of asbestos is banned in the EU. Nevertheless, given that over 220 million buildings were built before the ban, it is likely that a significant part of today’s building stock still contains asbestos. A considerable number of renovations and demolitions are expected over the coming years. As part of the European Green Deal, the Renovation Wave Strategy includes the aim to double the annual rate of energy renovations of buildings by 2030, which are responsible for more than one third of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
These renovations will improve health and living conditions for consumers, and reduce their energy bills. However, they will also increase the risks of exposure to asbestos while they are taking place, in particular for people employed in the construction sector.
The Commission proposal for a revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive also underlines that Member States should support energy performance upgrades of existing buildings that contribute to achieving a healthy indoor environment, including through the removal of hazardous substances like asbestos.
For all these reasons, the Commission’s Communication tackles asbestos in a comprehensive way, from health treatment and prevention to identification and safe removal of asbestos in buildings and waste treatment.
How are people and the environment in the EU currently protected against asbestos?
Over the past 40 years, the EU has taken action to limit and then ban asbestos. Between 1983 and 1985, the EU restricted the use of six types of asbestos fibres. In 1999, it banned all six types of asbestos fibres, with the EU asbestos ban taking effect in 2005 for goods both produced in and imported into the EU.
The most recent EU legislation protecting workers against exposure to asbestos is the Asbestos at Work Directive 2009/148/EC, which lays down strict obligations on employers in terms of protection, planning and training. Today, the Commission proposes to revise the Asbestos at Work Directive, to introduce an even stricter occupational exposure limit to asbestos and further increase workers’ protection. The overarching Occupational Safety and Health Framework Directive, which lays out the main principles of workers’ safety and health at work, and the Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reprotoxic Substances Directive dealing specifically with risks posed by carcinogens at work, offer additional safeguards to protect workers from the risks of asbestos exposure.
Investments in screening and early diagnosis can significantly help victims of asbestos exposure, as a quick diagnosis and treatment will mitigate the effects of asbestos-related diseases, including cancers, in line with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the build-up of a European Health Union. The Cancer Plan adopted in February 2021 aims to prevent cancer and ensure that cancer patients, survivors, their families and carers can enjoy high standards of diagnosis, treatment and a high quality of life. As part of the Cancer Plan Flagship initiative to put forward an EU-supported cancer screening scheme, the Commission recently presented new Recommendations on cancer screening in the EU, including the extension of organised screening also to lung cancer. The scheme will be supported by the European cancer imaging initiative, aimed at fostering the development of new screening methods and algorithms.
Finally, to prevent harmful environmental effects, the management of asbestos-containing waste is also regulated at EU level, notably via the Waste Framework Directive and a Decision establishing a list of wastes. As a result, asbestos is regulated in terms of its the production, transport, management, removal and reporting and traceability obligations. The disposal of asbestos waste in landfills is also strictly controlled under the EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol and Guidelines.
What is the European Commission presenting today?
The Commission puts forward today a Communication outlining the EU’s comprehensive approach to achieve an asbestos-free Europe for the current and future generations.
The Communication lists existing and new measures to fight asbestos in the EU and covers the following aspects:
- supporting victims of asbestos-related diseases;
- protecting workers against exposure to asbestos;
- addressing asbestos present in buildings;
- safe disposal of asbestos-containing waste and zero pollution;
- EU financing support for related measures; and
- the EU’s role as a global leader in the fight against asbestos.
The Commission also proposes to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive to protect workers and strengthen the prevention of asbestos-related diseases with a significant, tenfold reduction of the EU occupational exposure limit of asbestos (from 0.1 fibres/cm³ to 0.01 fibres/cm³).
What are the benefits of today’s proposal for citizens, workers, businesses and Member States?
For workers and citizens
The reduced occupational exposure limit for asbestos at work strengthens workers’ protection, improving the quality of life of workers and their families. It is estimated that over 600 additional asbestos-related cases of cancer can be prevented over the next 40 years. These additional prevented cases relate to workers who are still exposed to asbestos today. They come in addition to the ones already prevented by the numerous preventive measures and EU legislation in place since 1983 to protect people against exposure to asbestos, including the increasingly stricter occupational exposure limit to asbestos and the 2005 ban. All this would result in savings between €166 million and €323 million for the workers and their families, as a result of improved length, quality and productivity of working lives, avoided premature deaths, or reduced costs of informal care, for example.
EU action will help achieve a uniform level of minimum protection for workers across the EU. This will also create fairer conditions for posted, cross-border and mobile workers exposed to asbestos in the construction sector (which has a significant number of posted workers moving from one site to another, often in multiple Member States). The wider public may benefit as well from reductions in the generation and spreading of asbestos dust because of improved risk management measures.
Employers and businesses will benefit from the level playing field created by a more harmonised approach, in particular companies operating in several Member States. Common solutions will avoid having to design site-specific protective measures, facilitating work for businesses. The reduced occupational exposure limit for asbestos at work is expected to reduce costs caused by work-related illnesses and cancer in terms of absenteeism, lost expertise, insurance payments and productivity losses. Increasing occupational safety and health could also make the construction sector more attractive, making it easier to recruit and retain staff and increase the productivity of workers.
For Member States
The revised occupational exposure limit will also help reduce costs for Member States’ social security and healthcare systems by preventing illnesses, at an estimated €3.4 million over 40 years. Moreover, the revision of the occupational exposure limit at EU level eliminates the need for Member States to conduct their own scientific analysis to independently determine the acceptable exposure level. This saves administrative costs and simplifies compliance checks due to a harmonised set of requirements.
What consultation process did you follow to propose a new occupational exposure limit for asbestos?
The proposal for a new occupational exposure limit is the result of an extensive consultation process and a thorough analysis of scientific, social and economic factors. The Commission has notably considered the following contributions:
- The scientific opinion of the Risk Assessment Committee of the European Chemicals Agency;
- The opinion of the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work, composed of representatives of Member States’, workers’ and employers’ organisations, which looks not only at scientific aspects but also at socio-economic impacts and technical feasibility;
- The results of a two-stage social partners consultation, where workers’ and employers’ representatives have provided feedback; and
- The results of the Impact Assessment which analysed the different options in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, feasibility, and coherence.
How are these initiatives linked to the green transition?
This Communication comes at a time when the EU is determined to significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and to achieve a zero-emission and fully decarbonised building stock by 2050. The Renovation Wave Strategy aims to double annual renovation rates by 2030, which will improve health and living conditions for consumers but is also likely to increase the number of workers and citizens potentially exposed to asbestos while the renovations take place. The need to contribute to achieving a healthy indoor environment, including through the removal of asbestos, is also highlighted under the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, proposed by the Commission in December 2021. Addressing the health risks of exposure to asbestos is therefore essential to achieve a green transition that puts public health and decent living and working conditions at its core. Furthermore, measures to ensure a safe management of asbestos-containing waste will contribute to environmental objectives, in particular for the decontamination of toxic substances promoted in the Zero Pollution Action Plan.
What EU funds are available to support health prevention, treatment of illnesses and removal of asbestos?
There are several EU funds available to support Member States’ actions for health prevention, treatment of illnesses and removal of asbestos. They include the following:
- The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) can be used to fund the removal of asbestos-containing materials from buildings as part of energy efficiency renovation works. Member States can also use the RRF to reskill and upskill workers handling asbestos. The RRF can be also finance healthcare reforms and investments, focusing on prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including of cancer patients.
- The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) can support structural reforms for equipping workers handling asbestos with new and additional skills and support their lifelong learning. In 2015-2017 for instance, a practical course for young construction workers by the Institute for Building Sector Training in Luxembourg, co-funded by the ESF, included a training on the removal of solid asbestos.
- The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) can co-finance projects for large-scale asbestos removal. In Portugal, €3 million from the ERDF were used in 2020 to renovate schools in Portimão, including through the removal of asbestos. In Belgium, an ERDF-funded project set up in 2018 to build a new administrative centre for the Hainaut region used funds to remove asbestos safely from an old coal-mining site.
- The Peer2Peer+ initiative can also offer support for administrative capacity building and for the exchange of expertise and knowledge between national authorities managing cohesion policy programmes.
- The EU4Health programme with an overall budget of €5.3 billion for the period 2021-2027 can be activated for health promotion and disease prevention, in particular cancer.
How is the EU helping to eliminate asbestos worldwide?
The EU must continue to play a leading role globally to end the use of all types of asbestos. While the EU has banned all use of asbestos, several non-EU countries still produce and use asbestos-containing products, with global production reaching approximately 1.2 million tonnes in 2021.
Through technical assistance under the Rotterdam Convention, the EU helps countries replace asbestos materials with safer substitutes, and improve early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for asbestos-related illnesses.
The EU also leads by example in the protection of workers from the risks related to asbestos exposure. The proposed update to the occupational exposure limit at EU level will make it one of the strictest in the world, together with Switzerland. The EU will continue its work in promoting workers’ protection globally, for instance in the framework of the International Labour Organization and G7 and G20 initiatives.
For More Information
Source – EU Commission
Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Schmit on protecting people from asbestos and minimum income
Brussels, 28 September 2022
Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis:
At a time of surging inflation and an energy crisis provoked by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, it is more important than ever to focus on employment and social dimensions across our Member States.
The immediate issue for this autumn is to address surging energy bills.
The Commission has proposed emergency measures for electricity markets that could provide Member States with as much as €140 billion to support families and businesses.
The resources should be used to help the most vulnerable in particular: those at the lower end of pay and pension scales, and struggling small businesses.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility will also play an important role. It is vital for Member States to press ahead with investments and reforms identified in their national plans.
This will help us to weather the effects of the war in Ukraine and emerge stronger from the crisis. Member States can make use of some €225 billion still available in RRF loans.
And our REPowerEU initiative will help us to save energy, diversify energy supplies and boost use of renewable energy.
We must keep working together to provide the most effective and efficient policy response and support for those who need it most.
This includes social partners too. They play a critical role in seeing that the costs incurred by this crisis are distributed fairly.
Turning to today’s proposals: as we continue to put into effect the European Pillar of Social rights, they make good on the commitments that we made in last year’s action plan.
On the proposal for a recommendation on minimum income:
It aims to tackle social exclusion by making sure that EU countries have accessible and adequate social safety nets in place, following an active inclusion approach – and including through minimum income schemes.
The safety nets help to reduce social inequalities within Member States. They help boost employment by contributing to labour market integration for those who can work.
Minimum income schemes should strike the right balance between:
- alleviating poverty
- providing sufficient incentives, and
- supporting people to re-integrate in society and labour markets.
They should be sustainable in terms of their budgetary costs.
Today’s recommendation will help to reach the EU’s 2030 targets of reducing the number of people in poverty or social exclusion, and of boosting employment.
I will now turn to another area where we need to improve policies: tackling the risks posed by asbestos.
We are all aware of its very real dangers as a cancer-causing agent. The EU has been taking action in this area for 40 years, banning the very last form of asbestos in 2005.
But even today, as much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in Member States are related to asbestos.
Given that more than 220 million building units were built before the 2005 ban, a significant part of today’s building stock still contains asbestos.
As you know, a key part of the planned green transition is to renovate buildings to make them more energy-efficient.
Renovations will improve people’s health and living conditions and also reduce their energy bills.
However, renovating, adapting or demolishing older buildings can increase exposure to asbestos, especially for those working in the construction sector.
This is why we need to update the existing rules, as contained in the Asbestos at Work Directive.
We should do this now, also to reflect new scientific knowledge. So we propose reducing the occupational exposure limit value to 10 times lower than its current value.
Looking further ahead, we will do much more to fight asbestos and its dangers. This reflects last year’s European Parliament resolution calling for an EU strategy to remove all asbestos.
- ask Member States to develop asbestos removal strategies
- set procedures to screen and register asbestos in buildings
- and improve asbestos waste disposal practices.
Today’s communication on working towards an asbestos-free future is part of our long-term work to improve the prevention of cancer, protect people’s health and the environment, and ensure decent living and working conditions for all Europeans.
Thank you and I now pass the floor to Nicolas.
Today we address two Principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, adding two more pieces to the puzzle: Principle 10 on a healthy and safe work environment; and Principle 14, on adequate minimum income.
The Pillar of Social Rights states that “Everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits ensuring a life in dignity at all stages of life, and effective access to enabling goods and services. For those who can work, minimum income benefits should be combined with incentives to (re)integrate into the labour market.”
At the Porto Social Summit in May last year, EU leaders endorsed new social targets to meet by 2030. One of these was to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and exclusion by at least 15 million people. Minimum income is a cash benefit given to households as a last resort, to help people pay the bills, and lift them out of poverty. In the current context, with soaring living costs and energy bills, we have to pay extra attention to those households and individuals that risk falling through the cracks. We don’t want to leave people at the poverty threshold, we want to help lift people out. First, with benefits. Then with active help to return to education or a job. Income support schemes exist in all Member States, but our analysis shows that they are not always adequate, they don’t reach people who need it, and they don’t always help those who can work to return to the labour market. People being paid income support are still below the poverty line in 22 Member States, and around 20% of jobless people at risk of poverty are not eligible to receive any income support. To make sure that income support schemes are adequate, Member States should set a level that takes into account various elements, like prices, overall income sources and wage developments. The level should then reach the poverty threshold or the equivalent, using a basket of goods and services as the guide.
To make sure it reaches the right people, Member States should set criteria that:
- doesn’t discriminate against age
- makes sure the length of legal residence is fair
- allows it to reach individuals and not just households.
This is important to reach single parent families, especially headed by women. Member States should proactively reach out to persons lacking sufficient resources to encourage the take-up, particularly of single-parent households.We recommend that the application procedures are simplified, there should be more readily available information on how to apply, and that applications are processed within 30 days.There should be more individualised support. People should be assigned a case manager with an inclusion plan made within 3 months. Minimum income should also help people get back to the labour market, especially focusing on young people to make sure they do not stay out of work for a long period.Member States should provide the right incentives for people to return to work, offer support through training programmes and for example allow them to combine income support with earnings from work in the short term. Just a final word before I move onto asbestos.
Today the College also adopted a Communication on better assessing the distributional impact of Member States’ policies. It offers guidance on how to better target policies, making sure that they address existing inequalities and take into account the impact on different geographical areas and population groups, like women, children and low-income households. The Communication covers guidance on the policy areas, tools, indicators, timing, data and dissemination of the assessment. This is relevant for Member States when designing their minimum income schemes, but not only these, it applies to all policies.
Last October, I made a promise to the European Parliament plenary that we would closely follow up on its Resolution on asbestos.We are not starting from scratch. All forms of asbestos have been banned in the EU since 2005. But asbestos remains present in older buildings. 220 million units were built before the ban.It poses a health threat, particularly when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and fibres are released and inhaled, for instance during renovations. This can go onto cause cancers that only show themselves decades later. This is particularly relevant in the context of the green transition and our EU ambition to increase the renovation rate of buildings and make them more energy efficient.
Based on the latest scientific and technological developments, the Commission is proposing to reduce the exposure limit of asbestos at work tenfold compared to the current value.This new limit was decided after scientific assessment and feasibility analysis by the tri-partite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work, a two-stage social partner consultation and an Impact Assessment.To ensure the safe disposal of asbestos and zero pollution, the Commission will revise the EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol, and the Guidelines for the waste audits before demolition and renovation works of buildings.To improve information on asbestos in buildings, the Commission will put forward a legislative proposal on the screening and registration of asbestos in buildings. Member States will be asked to develop national strategies for the removal of asbestos.To better support victims of asbestos-related diseases, the Commission already two weeks ago proposed a new EU approach on cancer detection, which includes an update to the 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening. We will also consult the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work on including additional asbestos-related diseases as occupational diseases.
Source – EU Commission