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Asbestos Directive: good, but could have been better

November 26, 2002 12:00 AM

A West Midlands Euro-MP has reacted with disappointment at the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs committee’s decision to compromise over asbestos exposure levels for workers.

Liz Lynne, a Liberal Democrat member of the Employment Committee, tabled an amendment to a new directive limiting workers exposure to asbestos, seeking to halve the exposure limits stated in the draft directive. This amendment was defeated, by a coalition of Socialists, Greens and the Conservatives’ European People’s Party. In April, this amendment was supported by the Parliament in full plenary with a large majority.

Commenting on today’s vote, Liz said:

“Other parties argued that we should opt for less stringent levels of exposure in order to get the directive passed quickly. My view is that it would be better to get the legislation right rather than rush it through with a real possibility that workers’ health could be put at greater risk. Now it appears as if this directive, although I welcome the main thrust of it, will just be rubber-stamped by Parliament without going through the conciliation process.

“Conciliation would have meant that MEPs and representatives from the Council of Ministers get round the table and discuss the details of this amendment.

“My fear, which was borne out by comments from the Commission today, is that many MEPs, Commission officials and ministers do not understand that by reducing the time weighted average from 8 hours to 4 hours as I proposed will in real terms halve the amount of time workers will be exposed to asbestos.

“There is clear medical evidence that this would significantly protect workers who are exposed to asbestos.

“But by buckling at this stage, the Committee is effectively throwing in the towel without a fight. This is a major miscalculation in my opinion.”

Notes: Liz Lynne is ELDR Shadow Rapporteur on the Asbestos Directive in the European Parliament. The proposed new directive would simplify a 1983 directive on asbestos exposure limits, committing employers to ensure that no worker is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 fibres per cm3 as as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Liz is proposing to amend this to a 4-hour TWA, effectively halving maximum exposure limits.

When Liz’s amendment was originally supported by the Parliament back in April, TUC Secretary-General John Monks described the decision as “A major step forward in protecting workers.”

Every year 4,500 people in Britain die of asbestos-related diseases and it is predicted that a quarter of a million people will die of these diseases in the next 35 years across Western Europe.