EU Committee Requests Extension of Directive to ‘Prioritise’ the Removal of Asbestos in Buildings and ‘Improve’ the Protection of Affected Workers

‘Every worker in the construction industry runs the potential risk of coming into contact with asbestos, but in many Member States training requirements and provisions are insufficient to adequately protect workers from the risks of asbestos’ – Aurel Laurentiu Plosceanu, of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

Last week, the Brussels-based advisory Committee, with no conferred legislative powers, called for a review of the ‘transposition and practical implementation’ of the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)[i], to ‘improve the protection’ of workers at risk of exposure to asbestos (and respirable crystalline silica, wood dust, etc.) in the course of employment.[ii]

The EPBD was first introduced in 2010, with a view to reducing the impact of climate change, but its mandate may soon be extended to tackle occupational health issues affecting specific occupation groups:

‘… the removal of harmful substances goes hand in hand with energy renovation’.

This public call follows the adoption of an Opinion on the proposal: Working with Asbestos in Energy Renovation, co-drafted by rapporteur, Mr. Plosceanu, at the EESC’s May 2019 plenary, made up of trade unions and industry representatives.

The Opinion states that ‘new technologies and new work practices to protect the health and safety of workers and inhabitants of buildings are available and their use and implementation need to be promoted’.

In addition, it is recommended that EU Member States should begin formulating ‘long-term renovation strategies’. Further, that they should be able to register harmful substances in buildings that are ‘publicly accessible’ and ‘prioritise’ the ‘safe’ removal of harmful substances recorded in a ‘digital building logbook’ and ‘building renovation passports’:

‘… many buildings in need of improvements to their energy performance pre-date the ban on asbestos. Estimates suggest that currently, about 35% of the EU's buildings are over 50 years old and almost 75% of the building stock is energy inefficient, which means that the bulk of buildings in Europe are eligible for renovation before 2050. Accordingly, large amounts of asbestos will have to be removed safely’.

This will likely appease many UK politicians and campaign groups (read our latest No Time To Lose article, here) that have sought to clamp down on asbestos exposure, especially in schools and hospitals.

Looking to the future, the EESC also advises that policy makers and building material producers should take a precautionary approach to future development of buildings, warning that nanomaterials, which share similar geometric properties with asbestos, ‘could potentially be dangerous in the long run’.

We have previously reported on nanomaterials as an emerging health risk in editions 107 (here), 109 (here), 121 (here), 183 (here), 215 (here), 221 (here) and 251 (here) of BC Disease News.

 

[i] (Directive 2009/148/EC).

[ii] ‘Workers' health should not be jeopardised in order to make buildings energy efficient’ (28 May 2019 EESC) https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/news/eesc-urges-buildings-directive-review-prevent-asbestos-exposure> accessed 7 June 2019.