Asbestos Directive: mandatory decontamination a win for firefighters

Firefighters suits and helmet © CanStock Photo Leaf

(3 October 2023) Today the European Parliament voted on the deal agreed with Member States on the revision of the Directive on Protecting Workers from Asbestos.

This new text brings significant positive changes for firefighters. The revised directive:

  • recognises the specific risks which firefighters incur in their jobs and gives a mandate to the European Commission to develop, within two years, guidelines with sector-specific solutions for firefighters and emergency services.
  • introduces mandatory appropriate decontamination for every firefighter when exposed to asbestos.
  • introduces the obligation for employers to provide practical and theoretical training - adapted to the specific needs of the sector - to every firefighter who is likely to be exposed to asbestos in their profession. Among the requirements, specific training must be delivered on decontamination and on medical surveillance requirements.

This means every firefighter has the right to receive proper training on decontamination and medical surveillance requirements, adapted to the profession of firefighters. It also implies that, if a decontamination protocol and training does not exist in a Member State, one must therefore be created.

Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary, EPSU welcomed the decision, saying “Mandatory decontamination is a long-standing demand of EPSU and its affiliates. It’s a crucial protection measure for firefighters and other emergency service workers when intervening in buildings that were built during the years when asbestos was used extensively. In cases of fire or structural collapse, exposure to asbestos is almost a given for emergency service workers. Member States must now work with trade unions to develop these decontamination protocols on a national level.”

EPSU welcomes the decision, which builds upon the demands we presented at the Parliament’s hearing on the working conditions of firefighters in March 2023. We also welcome the reference to passive and secondary exposures as many public sector workers – in health; social services; local and regional government; municipal services; national and European administration; utilities and more - work in buildings containing asbestos. These provisions will also be extremely beneficial for waste workers.

In addition to this welcome step forward, EPSU is actively advocating for the transposition of the WHO-IARC classification of professional exposure as a firefighter as carcinogenic (Group 1) into the Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reprotoxic Directive (CMRD), as well as the establishment of national registries on asbestos.