The European Commission has requested that the UK amend its regulations on asbestos at work because they do not comply fully with the parent EU Directive.
Delivered in the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures, the Commission wants the UK to change provisions in its legislation that exempt some maintenance and repair activities from the application of the EU Directive on the protection of workers from asbestos.
It follows a complaint received by the Commission that Article 3(3)(a) and (b) of the asbestos Directive 2009/148/EC has not been correctly transposed into UK law. Article 3(3) offers 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 – for example, in the case of some maintenance and repair activities.
However, in the Commission’s view, the UK law omits specific parts of Article 3(3)(a) and (b), and so widens the scope of the exemption. The Commission says the UK legislation focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos but not enough on how the material can be affected by the work involved. The Directive deals with both exposure and the material.
The UK now has two months to bring its legislation into line with EU law, or risk the matter being referred to the EU’s Court of Justice.
Commenting on the development, TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “This is another nail in the coffin of the myth that the HSE has been ‘gold-plating’ regulation. European regulations are there to protect workers, and governments should see them as being minimum standards rather than trying to weasel out of their commitments.”
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction-workers’ union UCATT, added: "Construction workers, especially those involved in maintenance work, are now at the greatest risk of being exposed to asbestos and developing asbestos-related diseases.
“It is essential that they are given the greatest possible training, education and protection when it comes to dealing with asbestos. UCATT’s advice is clear: if you are not a specialist, do not work with asbestos. If, at any point, you think you are working with asbestos, stop work immediately and get it checked out.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “The reasoned opinion is a long and complex legal document and we need to look at it carefully before we decide how to respond.”