EFBWW CAMPAIGNS

Asbestos, still a killer

The EFBWW is the frontrunner in protecting workers from asbestos.All workers who could get in contact with asbestos must receive all information, training, and the proper protective gear. Accessible digital asbestos registries should map all contaminated buildings in all Member States. EU minimum exposure limits for asbestos should be lowered. Victims of asbestos-related diseases must be recognised without bureaucratic hurdles, and receive medical support  and adequate financial compensation.

Asbestos is legally banned in the EU since 2005. Why is the fibrous substance still so dangerous? Demolition works, energy renovation, a new roof or floor – millions of workers perform work in old buildings that were constructed using asbestos products. Asbestos can be found in asbestos-cement roofs, in a building´s flooring, in windows, insulation or heating and cooling systems.

As a result, asbestos continues to be a significant health threat. In Europe alone, an estimated 47 000 persons die annually as a consequence of asbestos exposure. Particularly in danger are workers in the construction sector, but also do-it-yourselfers, inhabitants of asbestos-contaminated buildings, and the general public. The EFBWW calls for the complete eradication of asbestos from the European building stock. As a first step, asbestos should be removed from all schools and gyms until 2025.

There are no safe exposure limits for asbestos fibres. Asbestos-related diseases include, among others, mesothelioma and lung cancer, pleural plaques, and asbestosis. Latency periods of asbestos related diseases can last for 40 years. All too often it is too difficult for a worker to prove that he or she is suffering from an occupational disease caused by the work with asbestos.

The asbestos removal rate is still much too low in the EU. Only a few Member States have ambitious removal programmes. At the same time, the EU goals for Energy Performance in Buildings make it unavoidable that huge quantities of asbestos containing materials will be handled by workers during energy renovation.  

The work with asbestos and asbestos containing products must be safe and sustainable. Not only workers from specialised companies get in contact with asbestos. Electricians, painters, floor tilers and roofers conducting renovation will often encounter and handle asbestos-containing products.

All those workers have a right to healthy and safe working conditions, close medical surveillance, appropriate training, and rapid recognition procedures and compensation in case of asbestos related diseases.

The 2009 EU directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work sets important European minimum standards for national legislators. However, there are shortcomings. We call on the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to revise the directive.

FREE EUROPE FROM ASBESTOS CAMPAIGN

The EFBWW campaign includes demands for five different areas:

Registration, notification and medical surveillance

Comprehensive, complete, updated and accessible geographical mapping and registration of all asbestos in buildings is the best way to prepare for the safe removal of asbestos, for secure (energy) rennovation and for the quick recognition and compensation of asbestos-related occupational diseases. All Member States should set up registries as an integral part of their asbestos removal strategies. The Polish national digital Asbestos Database can serve as one of the good practice examples. A proposal for EU minimum standards for national asbestos registries is included in the EFBWW Trade Union Guide on using Asbestos Registries.

Workers must be registered if they are working regularly or occasionally with asbestos. This is of utmost importance for the detection of diseases, for its recognition and its compensation.

It is equally important to register specialised companies allowed to work with asbestos. Only companies with prooven qualification on the basis of solid legal criteria can be allowed to do the job.

Safe working conditions

Although the European and national legislative frameworks are in place, practical working conditions are often bad. Enforced safety measures at the work place must include a full risk analysis, the proper instruction of workers, a work schedule, organisational measures (e.g. number of workers in contact with asbestos reduced to a minimum), safety measures (e.g. warning signs, exhaustion devices at the source) and proper personal protective equipment (e.g. obligatory respiratory masks).

The EFBWW calls for specific requirements for the activities (such as maintenance, demolition, reconstruction or waste disposal), their operation (technology used, exhaustion devices) and the protection of the environment.

Scientifically, there is no exposure limit value below which the handling of asbestos is safe. Some Member States demonstrate that it is possible to lower the EU minimum threshold of currently 100.000 fibres per cubic meter. Latest scientific research proposes a limit of max. 1000 fibres per cubic meter.

The EFBWW has commissioned Information modules for the safer handling of asbestos. The New technologies have the potential to make the work with asbestos safer. Robots can partly take over asbestos removal, digital maps can make knowledge about contaminated sites available, new more precise measurement techniques can contribute to a better monitoring of health and safety.

Better training for all workers

Construction workers are often acting on their own responsibility and in workplaces that change constantly. They need good qualifications. Knowledge on asbestos containing products and material is key. Training must also include information on periods during which asbestos was used and on safe working processes. Together with partner organisations the EFBWW has developed an ABClean asbestos awareness e-learning course.

The Commission´s Practical guidelines for the information and training of workers involved with asbestos removal or maintenance work are not sufficient. The EFBWW calls for an annex to Directive 2009/148/EC with new minimum standards for training of two groups of workers: 1) Workers who specialise in asbestos removal and 2) workers who are irregularly and unintentionally exposed to asbestos.

Recognition of asbestos-related diseases

The relation between the exposure to asbestos and occupational diseases is clearly proven. It is unacceptable that those diseases are often not recognised in some countries. Asbestosis is asbestosis in all countries - with the same fatal consequences for the individual. We demand the recognition of all asbestos-related diseases in all EU Member States. The Commission recommendation on occupational diseases should be updated with all forms of asbestos related diseases and transformed into an EU directive.

Recognition procedures and compensation of asbestos-related diseases

In some countries it is still very hard for workers to succeed in recognition procedures. Therefore, the recognition procedures have to be facilitated, especially if national registers for asbestos workers were set up only recently. The situation is even worse regarding the right to compensation. We call for EU minimum standards for compensation of asbestos related diseases.  

EFBWW POLICY DEMANDS
 

EU LEVEL NATIONAL LEVEL
LOWER EU EXPOSURE LIMITS FOR THE WORK WITHASBESTOS FIBRES IMPLEMENTATION AND STRICT ENFORCEMENT OF EUROPEAN AND NATONAL RULES
EU MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR NATIONAL ASBESTOS REGISTRATION EFFECTIVE SANCTIONS IN CASE OF BREACHES OF SAFETY AND HEALTH RULES
EU MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR TRAINING OF WORKERS WORKING REGULARLY OR ACCIDENTALLY WITH ASBESTOS COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL ASBESTOS REMOVAL STRATEGIES WITH A CLEAR TIMELINE
EU FRAMEWORK FOR RECOGNITION AND RECOGNITION PROCEDURES OF ASBESTOS-RELATED DISEASES ACCESSIBLE DIGITAL ASBESTOS MAPPING AND REGISTRATION
EU DIRECTIVE FOR OCCUPATIONAL DISEASES INCLUDING ALL RECOGNISED ASBESTOS-RELATED DISEASES QUICK AND UNBUREACRATIC RECOGNITION PROCEDURES FOR ALL ASBESTOS RELATED DISEASES
EU MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR COMPENSATION OF OCCUPATINAL DISEASES ADEQUATE COMPENSATION FOR ASBESTOS-RELATED OCCUPATIONAL DISEASES