Asbestos agreement a step forward for firefighters, emergency services and waste workers but more and better legislation is needed

banner asbestos ©CanStockPhoto stevanovicigor

©CanStockPhoto stevanovicigor

(29 June 2023) EPSU welcomes a new deal between the European Parliament and Council on the Asbestos at Work Directive. The agreement lowers the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) to either 10,000 fibres / m3 including thin fibres or 2,000 fibres / m3 excluding thin fibres and includes a review clause for further lowering by 2028. As demonstrated by the public hearing organised by the Parliament in March 2023, the revision of the directive was needed to set the pace for the next steps. The revision was also needed for groups of workers who are accidentally or unknowingly directly exposed and contaminated by asbestos - for example, firefighters and other emergency services and waste workers.

With the new directive, decontamination of workers after exposure is reinforced, being mandatory and appropriate. This is important for firefighters and other emergency services when intervening in buildings that were built during those years when asbestos was used massively. This is because in case of fire or collapse, workers are almost certain to be exposed to asbestos. However, to ensure proper coverage and tracking of exposure of all emergency and waste workers, EPSU called for national registries of presence of asbestos. This was not included in this revision, though the Commission committed to putting forward a legislative proposal on mandatory screening and registration of asbestos in buildings in September 2023.

More broadly, EPSU welcomes that the voice of firefighters and emergency services has been heard with specific recognition of them being a group at risk and a provision demanding the Commission to put forward specific guidelines to ensure the health and safety of firefighters and emergency workers, based also on national best practices.