After the general ban on asbestos, which finally had to be implemented in all EU member states in 2005, the asbestos issue became quiet – too quiet. For a long time, almost all actors overlooked the fact that asbestos is still present in millions of public and private buildings built before the ban and in parts of the infrastructure.
The trade unions were as well also quiet about the asbestos issue. Then, in 2009, a debate started in the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), inspired by Scandinavian colleagues. This debate led to the EFBWW campaign “Europe 2023- Asbestos free”. The focus of the campaign was and is to create national action plans within the framework of a European initiative to eliminate all remaining asbestos. This goal is also to be supported by legislative initiatives in the EU’s areas of competence.
The EU’s climate targets and the related “Renovation Wave” are now acting like a burning glass on the asbestos problem. A large number of occupational groups will be carrying out work on roofs, heating systems, windows, bathrooms, etc. (in addition to the specialised asbestos removal companies). They will all potentially come into contact with asbestos-contaminated materials. There is thus a risk that the currently very high number of annual asbestos victims will once again skyrocket (the Commission assumes a figure of about 70,000 deaths caused by occupational asbestos exposure in Europe).
In this context, the Commission’s proposals on asbestos, presented on 28 September 2022, come late, but they can still curtail the foreseeable catastrophe that will occur if Renovation Wave workers are not well trained and cannot carry out the work in safe conditions and properly. In particular, the Commission has presented a proposal for the revision of the Asbestos Directive (2022/489) and a Communication (2022/488) proposing further asbestos-related measures and initiatives in other policy areas.
The background for the Commission’s initiative is not least the European Parliament’s own-initiative legislative report, which was adopted in October 2021. It is based on a holistic approach and has spelled out which initiatives and legal changes are necessary to increase protection against asbestos exposure and to implement the current state of scientific and technical knowledge in this area. Thus, the parliamentary report is very much in line with the demands that the EFBWW is pursuing with its asbestos campaign.