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During the EU referendum campaign, the Remain campaign have been at pains to argue that EU membership has had a positive effect on workers’ rights. 

EU reduce risk of asbestos exposure

Paid maternity and paternity leave, paid holiday, protection for agency workers and gender equality have all been mentioned. However, one thing which does not appear to have been mentioned is the role of the EU in reducing the risks of exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

Asbestos is a general term for a group of fibrous materials known for their thermal resistance, tensile strength and acoustic insulation. It is now known to be a cause of lung diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural thickening and pleural plaques.

EU directive banning asbestos

White asbestos, which was often used in fire resistant and insulation materials, was not banned from being used in the UK until 1999. This occurred as a result of an EU Directive being implemented in the UK.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

Some years later, the European Commission was of the opinion that the UK had yet to completely implement the EU Directive. This led to the introduction of Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Further requirements to improve safety measures resulted, including reporting non – licensed asbestos work to the relevant enforcing authority, keeping written records of the work and having workers under medical surveillance.

No doubt the Remain campaign would see this as another example of how the UK benefits from membership of the EU, while the Leave campaign would claim that it is for our own government to pass such legislation as it deems necessary. However, the most important thing is surely that workers are not exposed to asbestos in the 21st Century as they were in the 20th Century, regardless of who passes the legislation to make this happen.