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Asbestos: European Council agrees to improve protection of workers

Ministers of employment settled their position on a proposal to tighten 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.

Lower exposure level:
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 limit value currently in force.

Improved measuring method:
Member states also decided to use a more modern and sensitive method for counting asbestos fibres, i.e. electron microscopy (EM). Member states would have 7 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.

Directive 2009/148/EC - exposure to asbestos at work

The revision of the 2009/148/EC aims at lowering the current asbestos limit value, reflecting the latest available scientific evidence, and thus enforce the protection of workers from asbestos exposure.

This revision is:

  • one of the priorities under the OSH strategic framework 2021-2027,
  • an important action of the cancer prevention pillar of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan,

Some of the key recommendations include:

  • reducing the asbestos limit value from 0.1 fibres/cm³ to 0.01 fibres/cm³
  • Phase contrast microscopy (PCM) which is currently the most widely used methodology for measurement of asbestos fibres in the air must be replaced by a more modern and sensitive methodology based on electron microscopy (EM). A significant transition period is also recommended to allow for companies to move from PCM to EM.
  • Guidance shall be developed under the responsibility of the Commission in consultation with the ACSH to help companies complying with the new BOEL

The state of play of the initiative at the moment is the EU Advisory Committee for Safety and Health (ACSH) at Work opinion was adopted in November 2021 (Doc. 008-21) and the EU Commission Impact Assessment is ongoing. It is expected that the proposal will be adopted in the third quarter of 2022.

The ASCH Opinion on asbestos presented to the Commission is publicly available at the following link.

ASCH Opinions