• Insights

Occupational asbestos exposure: new rules from the EU 

Written by
Toffoletto de Luca Tamajo, working in employment law since 1925.
Asbestos is an extremely dangerous carcinogenic substance, which unfortunately is still present in some economic sectors. For this reason, the European Union has once again intervened with a Directive in November 2023, which integrates and amends a previous Directive issued in 2009. The new Directive aims to ensure better protection for people who, during their work, are or may be exposed to dust from asbestos or materials containing this mineral.

Below is a summary of the main contents of the EU asbestos measure. 

Protection and training

The main objective of the Directive is to avoid all forms of asbestos exposure, even those which do not result from direct handling of the material such as: 

  • passive exposure, i.e. that of workers working alongside people using materials containing asbestos or in premises where it is present and deteriorating; 
  • secondary exposure, i.e. that of persons exposed to asbestos fibres that workers take home on their hair or clothing. 


Furthermore, there is zero tolerance under the Directive for sporadic or low-intensity exposure, which previously was grounds for an exemption from certain obligations such as health surveillance and registration of workers in a special register. Workers who are or may be exposed to asbestos must also receive mandatory training, the content, duration and frequency of which are now specifically identified in the annex to the directive. This training, both theoretical and practical, must be provided by a qualified trainer, both at the beginning of the employment relationship and whenever specific needs are identified, and must cover any information useful for understanding the hazardous nature of this mineral as well as safe working procedures. 

New limits

In order to reduce the likelihood of workers contracting asbestos-related occupational illnesses, the EU legislator proposes a revision of exposure limits and relevant measurement methods. The revision takes into account the use of technologies more capable of detecting even the finest fibres in the air, such as electron microscopy (instead of the more commonly used optical microscopy). The Directive expressly requires employers to ensure that no worker will be exposed for a reference period of eight hours to an asbestos concentration exceeding 0.01 fibres/cm3 (instead of the previous maximum of 0.1). By 21 December 2029, this maximum value will be further reduced to 0.002 fibres/cm3 excluding fine fibres, or to 0.01 fibres/cm3 including fine fibres. 

Exceeding these limits will result in immediate cessation of work, which may only continue if appropriate measures are taken to protect the workers concerned. 

Employer obligations

Employers’ obligations for the protection of exposed workers have also been partly revised, establishing more detailed prevention and protection measures, including:  

  • the elimination, during work processes, of asbestos dust emissions into the air; 
  • an adequate decontamination procedure for workers;  
  • greater attention for work carried out in enclosed spaces; and  
  • additional disclosure obligations (by means of notification to the competent authority) which must be fulfilled before the start of activities. 


In addition, the requirements for demolition, maintenance or removal of asbestos in buildings dating back to before the relevant ban came into force have been strengthened. Employers must obtain an ad hoc authorisation from the competent authority and take all necessary measures to detect the presence of asbestos. If necessary, they must request information from the owners of the premises or from other companies; failing that, in any case they must ensure that a qualified operator carries out an inspection to check for the presence of asbestos, obtaining the result before the start of activities. The absence of risks due to asbestos exposure in the workplace must be verified before activity is resumed. 

Note for employers

The issue of worker health and safety is of vital importance for organisations wishing to pursue ethical and sustainable management in connection with ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues. which clearly calls for the adoption of all measures to protect workers, including those related to asbestos exposure.