Brussels, 16 February 2011
Health and safety at work: Commission requests the UK to comply fully with EU legislation on asbestos
The European Commission has asked the UK to change provisions in its legislation that exempt some maintenance and repair activities from the application of the EU directive on protection of workers from asbestos. UK authorities do not comply with three clear obligations, undermining the protection foreseen by EU law for workers exposed to asbestos. The request takes the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures. The UK now has two months to bring its legislation into line with EU law. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the UK to the EU's Court of Justice.
The asbestos Directive 2009/148/EC lays down provisions to protect workers from asbestos related risks, mainly through preventive measures. Asbestos is a particularly dangerous agent, found for example in buildings. The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious diseases, including cancer. The EU legislation applies to activities where workers are or may be exposed to dust arising from asbestos or materials containing asbestos at work.
The Commission received a complaint that Article 3(3) (a) and (b) of the asbestos Directive has not been correctly transposed in UK legislation. This Article 3(3) gives the possibility for an exemption from three obligations set out in the directive for activities that involve only sporadic and low intensity exposure to asbestos - like for example the case of some maintenance and repair activities.
These three obligations refer to notifying asbestos works to the responsible national authority; making a prior health assessment for the workers and a new assessment every three years, for as long as exposure continues; and keeping a register of the workers who are, or may be, exposed to asbestos at work.
In the Commission's view, the UK law omits certain specific parts of Article 3(3) (a) and (b) and so widens the scope of the derogation of this Article. The UK legislation currently focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos and not enough on the how the material will be affected by the work itself, while the directive deals with both exposure and the material. This is why the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to the UK authorities, requesting them to bring its legislation into line with EU law. The Commission may decide to refer the UK to the Court of Justice of the EU if action to ensure compliance is not taken.
For more information on the infringement procedures:
Health and safety at work: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=148&langId=en
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For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/11/86