Health and Safety
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and 2006
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).
In practice the changes are fairly limited. They mean that some types of non-licensed work with asbestos now have additional requirements, ie notification of work, medical surveillance and record keeping. All other requirements remain unchanged.
Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Asbestos was used extensively in the UK, especially as a building material between the 1950s and the mid-1980s.
While asbestos in good condition is not harmful as such, it becomes highly dangerous once the material is damaged and a person breathes in the asbestos fibres.
Inhaling the fibres can cause deadly diseases currently resulting in more than 4,000 deaths a year.
And this figure is expected to rise over the next 10 years. Symptoms of these diseases often do not show up clinically for many years after first exposure to asbestos dust.
Most people with asbestos related diseases are retired but were exposed whilst at work. The failure of your employers to properly enforce health and safety regulations on dealing with asbestos places you at risk of injury.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006
In November 2006, The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 came into effect together with two Approved Codes of Practice providing guidance on complying with the Regulations.
The Regulations bring together the three previous sets of Regulations covering the prohibition of asbestos, the control of asbestos at work and asbestos licensing. Some of the main points of the Regulations are:
- It is prohibited to import, supply and use of all forms of asbestos. This continues the ban introduced for blue and brown asbestos in 1985 and for white asbestos in 1999. Also the second-hand use of asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheets and asbestos boards and tiles remains banned.
- Note that the ban applies to new use of asbestos. Existing asbestos that is in good condition may be left in place, but its condition needs to be monitored and managed to ensure it is not damaged.
- The Asbestos Regulations also include the ‘duty to manage asbestos’ (in non-domestic premises). The ‘duty to manage’ includes a variety of requirements, such as mandatory training for anyone that could be exposed to asbestos fibres at work; prevention of exposure to asbestos fibres as far as is reasonably practicable, and keeping the exposure to asbestos below specified ‘Control Limits’ (0.1 fibres per cm3 averaged over any continuous 4 hour period and 0.6 fibres per cm3 of air averaged over any continuous 10 minute period).
- Respiratory protective equipment is an important component of the control regime, and it must be suitable and fit properly.
- Under the Regulations most asbestos removal work must be undertaken by a licensed contractor; if the work is licensable a number of additional duties arise (such as the notification of the enforcing authority). There are some circumstances under which work can be exempt from licensing (e.g. low intensity and sporadic exposure, short, non-continuous maintenance activities).
What to Do if You Find Asbestos at Work
Stop work if you believe at any point you are working on asbestos and get it checked out. Report it to Your Manager or Supervisor.
Be aware that you will especially find asbestos:
- As a sprayed insulating coating on steelwork and concrete
As lagging on pipes and boilers
- As insulation board in walls, on doors and ceilings
As asbestos cement for roof and wall coverings, pipes and tanks
- In some decorative plaster
In floor and ceiling tiles
Before Work Starts
Your employer must identify the asbestos, the steps to be taken to prevent exposure, to reduce exposure, to monitor exposure and to dispose of waste correctly. They must decide if any work needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor.
All workers likely to be exposed to asbestos have a right to be given full information, instruction and training. Respiratory protection is needed and you must be trained in its use.
The employer must provide a class HEPA vacuum cleaner to vacuum up dust. There must be adequate washing and changing facilities, and protective clothing (usually disposable). Never take protective clothing contaminated with asbestos home for washing.
Register your exposure
If you have been exposed to asbestos get this fact recorded by your doctor in your medical notes. If you are a union member check if they have an asbestos register and, if they have, get your exposure recorded.
The information provided by you can then be used by your union and/or solicitor to make a claim on your behalf if you later develop any asbestos related disease.
Further information and guidance on asbestos at work
Information from Unite on the dangers of asbestos at work can be found here.
The TUC Guide to the Regulations for safety representatives can be found here.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 can be found here.
Asbestos in the Home
There is a very good chance that asbestos is present in homes built between the 1950s and the early 1980s and it can be found in homes built before or after these dates.
If it is in poor condition, gets damaged or releases fibres in any way, you and other residents are at risk. Anyone carrying out DIY on asbestos products is putting themselves at serious risk.
Asbestos has been used in all sorts of materials found in the home. The following list is not complete and should only be used as a rough guide:
- Combined with different quantities of bonding agent, asbestos was used to lag the steel support framework in tower blocks and services such as heating pipes, electrical conduits and ventilation ducts.
- In hard-board form it was used on the back of service intake doors, panels at the back of gas fires, bath panels, etc.
- In plaster-board form it was used as wall board, especially where there are service ducts running behind.
- It was used as a filler in textured ceiling and wall coverings like Artex, in linoleum floor tiles and artificial slate roofing.
- It is found in some storage heaters, ironing boards, brake and clutch linings and garage rooves and walls.
- It was combined with cement for use in corrugated roofing, pipework, etc.
You cannot determine whether a material contains asbestos by visual inspection, detection requires analysis which is a special skill and should only be done by qualified people and if you are in doubt you should visit your Local Council website for advice.
You may opt to pay for a specialist survey to be carried out or ask your landlord to carry one out.
When is Asbestos a Problem?
Asbestos is dangerous when fibres can be released. Even minor damage can produce many fibres, sometimes directly into the air you are breathing (while drilling a hole, for example).
Quite often asbestos fibres released into the air are invisible to the naked eye. Damage can also be done by wallpaper scrapers, rubbing down asbestos panels or Artex with sandpaper and removing asbestos panels to gain access to services.
Asbestos products can also be damaged accidentally if they are scraped, knocked or vandalised. Cutting asbestos with electrical tools and smashing asbestos products with a hammer are extremely dangerous activities and must be avoided at all costs.
If a product containing asbestos is damaged it can continue to give off fibres for a considerable time.
In 1985, the London Hazards Centre revealed that even banging a door closed near asbestos wall panels could lead to serious fibre release.
More information about asbestos in the home is available from The Health and Safety Executive here.