Asbestos is the single biggest cause of work-related death in the UK.
Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation.
Any building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals) can contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.
Employers have a number of duties to identify asbestos, and protect employees and members of the public from exposure to asbestos fibres.
The Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) have issued a policy statement called Our approach to permissioning regimes. This states that permissioning regimes such as asbestos licensing are only considered where the work activities involve significant hazard, risk or public concern.
Asbestos is classified as a category 1 carcinogen, with asbestos related disease causing over 4000 deaths every year in the UK.
Work with asbestos requires a high degree of regulatory control and the purpose of licensing is to achieve this. See HSE - Asbestos licensing for more information.
Working with asbestos
Not all work with asbestos requires a licence.
The Health and Safety Executive - Asbestos essentials will guide employers and employees in working with asbestos containing materials. You can also download their guide .
Asbestos - The Hidden Killer
Every week 20 tradesmen die from asbestos-related disease. Asbestos fibres cause four main diseases:
- Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum).
- Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes.
- Asbestosis is a scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years.
- Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells
Duty to manage asbestos in workplaces
In many cases, the duty holder is the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract.
The duty of the manager is to take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in.
Make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos containing materials - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos.
Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified. You can then take the necessary steps to put a plan in place. Periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date.