European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

EU legislation

The EU Directive of 26 July 1999 banned the marketing and use of products containing asbestos. It allowed an exemption for a transitional period that should have ended on 1 January 2008 for electrolysis plants using asbestos-containing diaphragms. In June 2009, under pressure from two chemical companies (Dow Chemical and Solvay), the Commission decided to extend that exemption, even though asbestos-free alternatives exist and are used by other companies. The ETUC and European Parliament lambasted the decision which was taken at the behest of DG Enterprise.

As far as EU labour law goes, any activity that exposes workers to asbestos fibres during the extraction of asbestos, or the manufacturing and processing of asbestos products, is prohibited by a Directive adopted in 2003 which came into force three years later. It marks a step forward. The new wording of Article 5 implies a ban in practice on the continued production of asbestos-containing materials or products for export. Other points of progress include lowering the exposure limit to 0.1 fibre/cm3 and expanding the scope of the Directive.

That being said, the Directive on the protection of workers exposed to asbestos does have some shortcomings: it does not cover self-employed workers, it does not require asbestos removal work to be performed by licensed contractors, and it does not require a list of exposed workers to be made, even though their health cannot be effectively monitored otherwise.