Analyse Asbestos

Nikolaj Villumsen: The revision of the EU’s asbestos directive must itself be revised!

MEP Nikolaj Villumsen analyses the proposal for a revision of the EU directive on protecting workers from asbestos.
He provides commentary and overview of the good, the bad and the incomprehensible in the proposal from the European Commission - and highlights 5 specific changes that must be made for the directive to be fit for purpose.

Photo: free images @jayphen
Nikolaj Villumsen (MEP)

The EU Commission today published its proposal for a revision of the asbestos directive, this comes alongside a “communication” with further measures and legislation that we can expect to see during 2022 and 2023.

Even though Nikolaj Villumsen is still on paternity leave, he has nevertheless read and analysed the proposal. Being the EU Parliament’s chief negotiator and author of last year’s asbestos report, and being committed to continue working on the new proposal, he has taken a short break from his maternity leave to analyse the proposal.

As such, he comments on how the EU Commission’s proposal meets the clear requirements the EU Parliament has already put forward, and describes what is missing. He calls the new proposal both good and bad:

It is good that something is finally happening and that steps are being taken in the right direction, but it is bad, that the revision of the existing legislation is far too narrow. It is also strange that the EU Commission is proposing a limit that is still far, far too high.

Overall, I must say that the proposed revision very much needs a revision. Far too many things go directly against what those who work with asbestos demand – and what we in the EU Parliament clearly demanded last year.

The following describes both disappointments and the positive aspects of the EU Commission’s proposal, as well as an overview of concrete points that should be included in the audit.

Overall, I must say that the proposed revision very much needs a revision. Far too many things go directly against what those who work with asbestos demand – and what we in the EU Parliament clearly demanded last year.

The bad:

If I have to say something positive about the proposed revision, it is that it is good that something is finally happening. It is also good, that the EU Commission recognizes that the current EU limits ​​for asbestos must be drastically lowered – but unfortunately, they are wrong on, how much the limits ​​must be lowered, says Nikolaj Villumsen.

He notes that in addition to the revision of the directive itself, the Commission is also publishing a communication on further measures and legislation that we can expect during 2022 and 2023.

These measures include:

  1. In 2023 the EU Commission will come up with a directive on mandatory screening and registration of asbestos in buildings, for example in connection with sales and rent.
  2. The EU Commission will also ask Member States to develop national strategies for the removal of asbestos.
  3. To that end, the Commission will come up with a proposal for the development of a standardized common digital format – a so-called EU digital building logbook, which, among other things, must contain asbestos-related information collected in connection with the screening.
  4. The Commission will also consult the member states’ authorities and social partners through ACSH (Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work) on the need to update the European list of occupational diseases (only a Recommendation) with additional asbestos-related diseases.

These measures and proposals are the result of Nikolaj Villumsen’s legislative initiative report recommendations to the Commission on the protection of workers against asbestos’, which was adopted by an almost unanimous EU Parliament in October 2021.

I am, of course, happy to see that there is now a plan for something to happen in all these areas. It was about time, says Nikolaj Villumsen, but continues:

However, I fear that, for example, a proposal on mandatory screening may come so late that it is uncertain if it can be finalized before the next EU election.

However, I fear that, for example, a proposal on mandatory screening may come so late that it is uncertain if it can be finalized before the next EU election.

 

The bad: 10 times too high limits

One of the things that stands out about the EU Commission’s proposal is, according to Nikolaj Villumsen, that a new limit for asbestos fibres of 10,000 fibres per cubic meter is proposed, a limit that is far higher than what the EU Parliament as a whole has demanded:

The EU Commission proposes a limit value of 10,000 fibres – this is 10 times higher than what we have demanded in the EU Parliament. I think that is completely nuts.

The EU’s chemical agency, ECHA, has already stated that there is no level at which asbestos is harmless, so setting the limit value so high is gambling with the lives and health of construction workers and craftsmen.

The Danish limit for asbestos fibres is, as of 1 January 2022, 3,000 fibres per cubic meter, one third of the level proposed by the EU Commission.

Nikolaj Villumsen emphasizes that a drastic lowering of the proposed limit value will be an important point in revising the proposal:

Lowering the limit value is super important, not least in a European context, where most workers must otherwise expect to be constantly exposed to more than 3 times as much asbestos as in Denmark.

The EU Commission proposes a limit value of 10,000 fibres – this is 10 times higher than what we have demanded in the EU Parliament. I think that is completely nuts.

The incomprehensible: A limited review

Nikolaj Villumsen calls it incomprehensible that the proposal that has been presented only provides for a limited revision of the directive, namely:

  1. the limit value for asbestos
  2. the method for measuring asbestos fibres

He says about the narrow revision proposals:

It is not only a missed opportunity; it also clearly breaks with what we in the EU Parliament specifically demanded. It is, to say the least, disappointing and we will of course have to rectify that.

It is not only a missed opportunity; it also clearly breaks with what we in the EU Parliament specifically demanded

 

Need for concrete changes

Nikolaj Villumsen emphasizes that a number of clear changes to the proposed revision are needed before it can be said to live up to the purpose and expectations.

In particular, he mentions five concrete points on which the directive must be significantly tightened:

  1. A clear tightening of the application of the directive, including removing many exceptions. Under a number of circumstances, it is possible to deviate from the parts of the directive’s provisions, which are otherwise supposed to ensure the protection and supervision of employees’ health.
  1. There must be stricter requirements for sampling in connection with risk assessments. This includes that it must be ensured that it is only certified personnel that collect samples.
  1. There must be a requirement for feasibility studies/screenings before energy renovations begin.
  1. Requirements for authorization of companies and certified training for colleagues who work with asbestos.
  1. Lower the limit value for asbestos to 1,000 fibres per cubic meter, in line with what has already been decided by the EU Parliament.

None of these requirements can come as a big surprise to the EU Commission, as we in the EU Parliament have already put them forward once – just as they have been requested by those who actually encounter asbestos in their working day, says Nikolaj Villumsen, and continues:

I believe that the EU Commission and the entrepreneurs must stop trying to gamble with the lives of the construction workers, just to save money on training and equipment. Because in the end, that is what this seems like.

We must ensure a broader revision of the directive, one that closes the many gaps, and which ensures better prevention, sampling and, not least, training and certification of those who work with asbestos.

I believe that the EU Commission and the entrepreneurs must stop trying to gamble with the lives of the construction workers, just to save money on training and equipment

 

The clock is ticking

When it comes to the timetable for the directives, Nikolaj Villumsen is concerned that certain proposals will not come until next year:

You have to remember that the clock is literally ticking.

With the EU’s Green Deal and the accompanying renovation wave, millions of buildings must be energy-secured and climate-renovated in the coming year. This entails both opportunities and risks. The possibility is that the green transition can be used to finally combat asbestos in our buildings. Risks include that it is dragged out, which will mean more workers are exposed to more asbestos:

We have to ensure that the colleagues who have to renovate our buildings can go to work safely. That is why the legislative work is also urgent.

 When, for example, rules for registration of asbestos in buildings apply, it is good to have the prospect of a directive next year – but it should have been here already. The thing is that time is running out.

Nikolaj Villumsen believes that one must stop underplaying the asbestos problem:

I am almost tempted to say that all those who insist on playing down the problem should go out and work with asbestos under the conditions they think workers should be offered.

I am almost tempted to say that all those who insist on playing down the problem should go out and work with asbestos under the conditions they think workers should be offered.

 

Tens of thousands die from asbestos each year

The seriousness of the problem is underlined by the many deaths and cases of illness that are still caused by asbestos. In 2019 alone, over 70,000 people in the 27 EU countries lost their lives due to asbestos-related diseases. This happened even though the EU banned the use of asbestos in 2005 and because it is still found in large parts of the building stock in Europe.

Tilmeld Nyhedsbrev

Tilmeld dig vores nyhedsbrev Øropa og modtag automatisk de vigtigste EU-nyheder



image linking to enhedslisten twitter feed

Tilmeld Nyhedsbrev

Tilmeld dig vores nyhedsbrev Øropa og modtag automatisk de vigtigste EU-nyheder

Læs mere om

ENHEDSLISTEN I EU-PARLAMENTET

Per Clausen er Enhedslistens medlem af EU-Parlamentet. Her kæmper han for et rødt, grønt og demokratisk Europa.

Læs mere
image linking to enhedslisten twitter feed