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Workers' health should not be jeopardised in order to make buildings energy efficient

EESC calls for better protection of workers in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)

The creation of healthy and energy efficient homes and work places, as foreseen in the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), should be achieved by creating synergies with the removal of harmful substances during energy renovation, says the EESC in its opinion on Working with Asbestos in Energy Renovation, which it adopted at its May plenary.

Cancer is already the second leading cause of death in Europe. While we know that lifestyle – smoking, obesity, too much alcohol – contributes to the chances of developing cancer, there is also the possibility of getting cancer from poisoned material that we are exposed  to in our working or living environment.

Asbestos is one of these materials. It continues to be the number one source of occupational cancer in the EU. This cannot be accepted any longer, says the European Economic and Social Committee in its own-initiative opinion and comes up with proposals for better protection of workers and the public.

The EESC deems it necessary that the removal of harmful substances goes hand in hand with energy renovation. However, policy-makers and stakeholders need to be aware of the potential health risk to workers involved in renewing the European building stock, in particular stemming from the exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos.

Every worker in the construction industry runs the potential risk of coming into contact with asbestos, but in many Member States training requirements and provisions are insufficient to adequately protect workers from the risks of asbestos, underlines Aurel Laurentiu Plosceanu, rapporteur of the EESC opinion.

According to the EPBD, Member States must set up long-term renovation strategies.  In line with Article 7 of the EPBD, the EESC proposes that Member States should formulate these long-term renovation strategies with a view to minimising the health risk to workers, inhabitants of buildings and the public.

Member States must also support social partners in adapting training, qualifications and job profiles to future needs. This should be done with the intention of increasing the attractiveness of the sector for young workers and women, says co-rapporteur Enrico Gibellieri

The EESC suggests a review of the transposition and practical implementation of the Directive on exposure to asbestos at work from the perspective of different occupation groups in order to improve the protection of all workers at risk of asbestos exposure.

The European Commission should make the removal of harmful substances a priority when developing complimentary tools such as a digital building logbook and building renovation passport to inform consumers about the renovation potential of buildings and support the implementation of customised renovation plans based on audits by professionals. This could include additional complimentary tools at EU level for the registration of harmful substances in buildings that are publicly accessible with a view to protecting consumers.

New technologies and new work practices to protect the health and safety of workers and inhabitants of buildings are available and their use and implementation need to be promoted. Taking the danger of harmful substances seriously can even drive innovation, says Mr Plosceanu.

One of the main reasons for revising the EPBD was to reduce the impact of climate change. As regards future buildings in the EU, the European Commission should actively promote a life cycle approach to building design and construction materials with a view to recyclability and end-of-life use. Incentives, for instance, for the use of sustainable building techniques and natural building materials could be an appropriate way.

Background

Asbestos continues to be the number one source of occupational cancer in the EU. According to the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) asbestos claims approximately 88 000 lives in Europe annually, accounting for 55-85% of cases of lung cancer at work. Mortality rates will continue to increase until the late 2020s and 2030s. Even work on bound asbestos can cause a significant release of harmful asbestos fibres.

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