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Exposure to asbestos: worker protection

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Exposure to asbestos: worker protection


Directive 2009/148/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work



  • It aims to protect workers against risks to their health arising from exposure to asbestos at work.
  • It lays down exposure limits and specific requirements with regard to safe work practices, including in respect of:
    • demolition, repairing, maintenance and asbestos removal work
    • information, consultation and training of workers and
    • health monitoring.


Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral whose fibres can be separated into thin, durable threads. It has been widely used in many industries because the fibres are excellent insulators (resistant to heat, fire and chemicals, and do not conduct electricity).

It is however a particularly dangerous substance (classified as a category 1A carcinogen in Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on the classification, packaging and labelling of chemicals). If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny fibres can be inhaled, leading over time to diseases such as asbestosis*, mesothelioma*, and other forms of cancer.


Prohibited activities are those which expose workers to asbestos fibres during:

  • the extraction of asbestos; or
  • the manufacture and processing of asbestos products; or
  • the manufacture and processing of products containing intentionally added asbestos.

The only exception from this prohibition is the treatment and disposal of products resulting from demolition and asbestos removal.

EU wide, there is also a general ban on any application of asbestos by means of the spraying process and working procedures that involve using low-density insulating or soundproofing materials which contain asbestos.

Removal and demolition

The treatment and disposal of products resulting from asbestos removal is permitted, and from demolition where the asbestos is removed in a pre-planned operation before any general demolition takes place. Exposure must be kept to a minimum by:

  • limiting the number of workers involved in the processes;
  • work processes designed to avoid creating asbestos dust;
  • clean and well-maintained premises and equipment;
  • rapid removal of waste, in sealed and labelled containers.

Risk assessment

Where there is a likely risk of exposure to asbestos dust, the risk must be assessed to determine the nature and degree of that exposure, based on a representative sampling of the worker’s personal exposure. Employers must notify the responsible authority of the EU country concerned before any work commences, including:

  • location of the worksite and number of workers involved;
  • type and quantity of asbestos;
  • activities and processes planned and duration of the work;
  • measures taken to limit exposure.

Concentration limit

No worker must be exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 fibres per cm3. If this is exceeded, work must be halted until further measures are taken to protect the workers concerned, including:

  • availability of respiratory and other personal protective equipment;
  • warning signs if the limit is exceeded;
  • preventing the spread of dust outside the site;
  • consultation with workers before activities begin.


Employers must provide appropriate training for all workers who are, or are likely to be, exposed to dust from asbestos or materials containing asbestos, at regular intervals and at no cost to the workers. The training must include information on:

  • the properties of asbestos and its effects on health;
  • safe practices; and
  • emergency and medical surveillance procedures.

Health assessment and surveillance

Each worker’s health must be assessed before exposure, and individual records must be established with further assessments at least every 3 years. Doctors may advise on individual protective measures, which may include the withdrawal of the worker concerned from all exposure to asbestos.

EU country responsibilities

EU countries must communicate any national law they adopt in this area to the European Commission, and submit a report every 5 years on the practical implementation of the directive. They must also keep a register of cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

This directive repeals a previous directive (Directive 83/477/EEC) which had been substantially amended several times.


It applies from 5 January 2010.


*Asbestosis: a chronic inflammatory lung disease caused by the breathing in and retention of asbestos fibres. It can result in severe shortness of breath and carries an increased risk for certain cancers.

*Mesothelioma: an aggressive cancer affecting the lining of the lungs and abdomen. Exposure to asbestos is the primary cause and risk factor.


Directive 2009/148/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work (codified version) (OJ L 330, 16.12.2009, pp. 28-36)

last update 06.06.2016