Europe Considers New Asbestos Controls 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Existing regulations protecting European workers from exposure to asbestos come under a Directive passed nearly twenty years ago (Council Directive 83/477/EEC of 19 September 1983). These and subsequent amendments were adopted within the context of a "controlled use" regime: i.e. asbestos products could be used safely if certain procedures were followed. The adoption in July, 1999 of a European ban on chrysotile changed the regulatory climate once and for all. The knock-on effect of the ban made it clear that more stringent controls were needed to protect those groups still at risk: workers involved in maintenance, demolition, refurbishment, repair, electrical, plumbing and asbestos removal work.

Commission proposals for amendments to Directive 83/477/EEC are being circulated which:

  • extend restrictions to cover workers in the sea and air transport sectors;

  • update methods for monitoring the atmospheric concentration of fibres using phase-contrast optical microscopy (membrane filter method) in line with 1997 WHO recommendations (ISBN 92 4 154496 1);

  • tighten exposure limit values by adopting a single limit of 0.1 fibres per cm3 in place of the former limits of 0.6 fibres per cm3 for chrysotile and 0.3 fibres per cm3 for other forms of asbestos;

  • strengthen the responsibility of employers for undertaking asbestos audits prior to the commencement of demolition or maintenance work;

  • introduce more intensive health and safety training measures for workers;

  • extend the retention period of registers of exposure and individual medical records from thirty to forty years.

Laurent Vogel of the European Trades Union Congress is disappointed by the Commissionís proposals. He says: "I welcome the fact that on the crucial point of limit-value the Commission has taken into account the trade union position and rejected pressure from employers for a higher limit. However, the proposals are inconsistent:

  • self-employed workers are not covered by the Directive; this could result in employers subcontracting the risks to them;

  • there is no explicit provision for a workplace and building asbestos register;

  • companies involved in maintenance, demolition and asbestos removal work should be required to obtain certification from public authorities on the basis of requirements drawn up by the Commission."

The full text of the proposals can be viewed at:

Comments from interested parties are welcomed.


September 10, 2001



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