UK asbestos at work regulations are to be investigated following a complaint made to the European Commission (EC) which suggests they don't comply with European law.
The complaint alleged that the EU Directive 2009/148/EC, dealing with the use of asbestos, has not been correctly implemented in the UK. A reasoned opinion, commissioned under EU infringement procedures, indicates that the European Commission wants the UK to change its laws in order to comply properly with the intended scope of the directive.
As it stands, in UK law some maintenance and repair activities are exempt from application of the directive on protection of workers from asbestos. However, the EC believes this blanket exemption is too wide an interpretation, and that specific parts of the Article have simply been missed out.
The intention of the directive was to provide an exemption for activities that involve only sporadic and low-intensity exposure to the harmful substance. An example was given that some maintenance and repair activities may fall into this category.
The EC says UK laws focus on the measurement of exposure to asbestos, but don't pay sufficient attention to the effect of the way in which asbestos is used, whereas the directive considers both are important.
Once nicknamed the 'magic miracle' because of its naturally-occurring, robust and fire resistant qualities, and its versatility throughout buildings and industry, asbestos later became the 'killer dust' when health officials realised its harmful effects.
As we now know, exposure to asbestos that has been disturbed so that asbestos fibres become airborne is dangerous in any quantity.
Shoosmiths solicitor Rebecca Lawrence said: "Whilst the UK is currently under criticism from the EC for failing to transpose the parent directive accurately, we still have strict regulations for handling this dangerous material.
"Exposure to asbestos can have fatal consequences if diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer develop. Many of these diseases may not present symptoms for up to 40 years. If they do, you should seek medical advice quickly.
"Whilst litigation against a previous employer may be the last thing on a victim's mind, if compensation is awarded, the victim will have peace of mind that the loved ones they leave behind should be more financially secure."
The UK has just weeks in which tighten its legislation in line with the directive, and the reasoned opinion – if not, the matter could be referred to the EU Court of Justice.
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