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European Parliament’s Position on the “Asbestos at Work” Directive Reflects ESMO’s Advocacy to Strengthen Worker Protection Against Asbestos and Reduce the Rates of Cancer

The revision of the EU’s Asbestos at Work Directive is set to enhance the protection of workers in Europe against asbestos, which is a highly dangerous carcinogenic substance. ESMO’s efforts to establish a robust exposure limit of 1,000 fibres per m3 and use more modern measuring methods are reflected in the European Parliament’s position.
11 May 2023

“ESMO warmly welcomes the confirmation of the Parliament’s position as it proposes robust measures that, if implemented in all EU countries, are set to strengthen the protection of workers against asbestos and significantly reduce cancer rates across the bloc,” says ESMO Director of Public Policy Jean-Yves Blay.

Asbestos, in all forms, is a proven carcinogenic substance that caused an estimated 71,750 deaths in the EU27 in 2019 due to occupational exposure. In light of the dangers presented by asbestos, ESMO has been engaging with the EU institutions to ensure the adoption of robust measures to protect workers, and made calls to reduce the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) even further to 1,000 fibres per m3 (0.001 fibres per cm3). Additionally, ESMO has advocated for extending the use of measuring methods based on electron microscopy - which are more modern and sensitive methods for detecting asbestos fibres. 

The Asbestos at Work Directive is EU legislation that establishes binding EU-wide limits regarding occupational exposure to asbestos aimed at protecting the health of workers. Amongst other things, this piece of legislation sets an OEL to asbestos which currently determines that workers cannot be exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 100,000 fibres per m3 (0.1 fibres per cm3) as an 8-hour timeweighted average. In September 2022, the European Commission proposed to revise the Asbestos at Work Directive and lower the OEL to 10,000 fibres per m3 (0.01 fibres per cm3).

Prof Blay highlighted: “As there is no safe exposure level to asbestos, it is crucial that the strongest possible EU-wide measures are taken to protect workers against this carcinogenic substance.” The European Parliament’s position to lower the OEL to 1,000 fibres per m3 should therefore be included in the revised Directive. “ESMO stands ready to support the EU institutions with taking the steps needed to prevent cancer cases caused by asbestos,” he said.

ESMO’s advocacy is reflected in the European Parliament’s position confirmed during the May plenary session. Now that the European Parliament’s position is final, it will enter into trilogue negotiations with the Council of Ministers. As per the EU’s Ordinary Legislative Procedure (OLP), the European Parliament and the Council will both have to agree on the final legislative text of the updated Directive.

Learn more on the dangers of asbestos exposure by following the World Cancer Report Updates self-paced e-learning module on “Introduction to Research on Pollution and Cancer”.

For further information, please contact: publicpolicy@esmo.org

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