Although there has been a ban on the use of asbestos within the EU since 2005, it is still found everywhere and will soon be exposed if we don’t take action now. With millions of older European buildings set to be ’climate renovated’ over the next decade as part of the Green Wave, so millions of floors, pipes and roofs will be opened up.
But unfortunately, there will be no advance screening for deadly asbestos. As they work on dusty ceilings and in narrow basements, Europe’s construction workers will risk exposure to the past’s massive use of asbestos fibres.
“It is clear to me and to the other shadow rapporteurs that strengthening the rules and better protecting construction workers from the dangers of asbestos are key to saving lives”
This is irresponsible and requires action before billions of euros are released from EU for the upcoming renovations. We must insist that Europe’s green transition takes place in a safe working environment. As Parliament’s rapporteur on the legislative initiative report on asbestos, my draft report proposes a comprehensive European strategy for the removal of all asbestos across the EU.
The report, adopted with a large majority late last month by Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee, demands immediate action from the European Commission, to ensure that the green transition will also be socially just. It is clear to me and to the other shadow rapporteurs that strengthening the rules and better protecting construction workers from the dangers of asbestos are key to saving lives.
Recent research shows that even very short periods of exposure to asbestos fibres can cause deadly lung cancer. In 2019 alone, 90,000 Europeans died from asbestos-related cancers. This number will only increase if we do not take action now. The safety of construction workers, as well as firefighters, citizens and consumers is extremely weak.
In my home country, Denmark, there are many asbestos-related horror stories, including one about children being exposed to asbestos while their kindergarten was being renovated, because there was no screening for asbestos beforehand. There was also a recent scandal where an employer cheated on an asbestos test, exposing both workers and inhabitants in the building to the deadly substance. Unfortunately, there are multiple such examples.
We must not accept the life-threatening health risks of asbestos. That’s why we have proposed the comprehensive strategy for the removal of all asbestos. It encompasses the call for a framework Directive for national asbestos removal strategies, entailing national asbestos registries with clear goals, a revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive with a lowering of the limit value for asbestos exposure as a key demand, as well as better recognition procedures and national compensation.
Furthermore, it demands screening before any climate renovations and the renting out or selling of buildings.
In addition, asbestos remains a cross-border issue where posted workers are often put into danger through not knowing what materials they are tackling. This makes it extremely difficult for them to pursue compensation 30 years after their exposure when cancers develop. For that to be tackled, I believe that we do need European answers. This is why I have proposed this European Strategy for the removal of all asbestos.
“I strongly recommend all my MEP colleagues to vote in favour of the best possible protection for Europe’s construction workers. The Parliament should have high ambitions and place protection against dangerous substances at the top of the Commission’s agenda”
The Commission has announced that it is committed to revising the limit value for asbestos exposure, but has not yet committed to any other measures presented in the report. Needless to say, further action is required to ensure that thousands of construction workers don’t have to risk their lives during the green transition.
This is why the message from the EMPL Committee vote is clear: A broad majority backs a comprehensive strategy, and we expect the Commission to deliver ambitious proposals to save lives during the green transition.
In the Commission’s newly proposed strategy for health and safety at work 2021-2027, the EU Executive talks about aiming for zero-work related deaths. But that aim will not save lives without action to match, and isn’t worth much when, at the same time, the Commission appears reluctant to follow up with clear asbestos-related initiatives. Soon, the European Parliament will vote in plenary on my report, and I hope to see a broad majority approving the results from the EMPL Committee asking the Commission for ambitious action on asbestos.
Therefore, I strongly recommend all my MEP colleagues to vote in favour of the best possible protection for Europe’s construction workers. The Parliament should have high ambitions and place protection against dangerous substances at the top of the Commission’s agenda.
The only way to do that is to secure a broad majority putting maximum pressure on the Commission to act now. The Parliament must stand together for better protection. Only this way can we set the direction of removing asbestos once and for all from the European map.