By letter dated 11 July 2013 the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment presented to the Parliament two reports prepared by the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (the "Inspectorate"). The first report, called "Industry-report Asbestos 2013", describes both the working conditions within the certified asbestos industry and the bad faith in which certain asbestos removal companies operate. The second report, called "Know where asbestos is" deals with the performance of the certified inspection bodies in the area of the assessment of asbestos.
In his letter to Parliament the Minister has firstly indicated that in the Netherlands annually between 900 and 1,300 people die as a result of historic asbestos exposure. The Minister has emphasized that the exposure to asbestos clearly is a life-threatening risk.
Although the use of asbestos in the Netherlands was prohibited in 1993, the asbestos used in the past is still present in various places. Therefore, according to the Dutch Minister, to prevent further risks from exposure to asbestos, it should first be assessed whether there is asbestos present at a specific place ('asbestos inventory') and if this is indeed the case, whether the asbestos should be removed. The assessment of asbestos as well as the asbestos removal must be carried out in accordance with statutory certification schemes formulating the specific rules on how this should be done. Only certified companies and persons are allowed to carry out such activities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment is responsible for this certification system.
The intensive attention of the Inspectorate to risks of environmental and occupational exposure is also motivated by the fact that it identified offences of non-compliance with the applicable law and regulations by a number of certified companies. The Minister has further emphasized asbestos removal is regularly carried out in breach of law and regulations The illegal removal of asbestos does not only give rise to health risks, but also undermines the application and the improvement of the system of the legal asbestos removal.
The "Industry-report Asbestos 2013" and the report "Know where asbestos is" show that supplementary measures are necessary to further improve working in a healthy and safe environment when assessing and removing asbestos.
Findings of the Inspectorate
In his letter to Parliament, the Minister has referred to the fact that, as from January 2012, the Inspectorate carried out more intensive supervision of, and focus on, the certified asbestos removal companies. The tightening of enforcement led to an increased number of prosecutions and a greater risk of being caught. The Inspectorate found that 70% of the asbestos removal companies that were investigated by the Inspectorate violated the applicable asbestos safety rules, whereas in the preceding years this was 'only' 58%. Nearly 50% of the violations found by the Inspectorate were of such gravity that the asbestos team of the Inspectorate decided immediately to shut down the work, imposed fines or made an official report (proces-verbaal). The Inspectorate emphasized that there are no indications that the increase in violations is due to a deterioration in compliance on the part of the asbestos removal companies, but rather is a result of the tightening of the enforcement and supervision by the Inspectorate.
In the letter to Parliament, the Minister has emphasized that it is evident that an effective certification system is crucial for a safe and healthy assessment of asbestos (and asbestos removal). The Minister has therefore announced that in the coming period the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment will further focus on - amongst other things - investigating the possibilities of invoking "chain liability" (ketenaansprakelijkheid) within the framework of the working conditions legislation (arbowetgeving), as far as it concerns the assessment of asbestos and/or the removal of asbestos. The result of this would be that not only the employer but also the party commissioning the asbestos work can be held liable when violations occur. Furthermore, the Minister announced that stricter rules will become effective in relation to the removal of asbestos. The reason for this is that as early as 2010 the Health Council of the Netherlands advised that asbestos exposure limits should be tightened. It is expected that these new, stricter exposure limit values will enter into force as of 1 January 2014.