Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983
Asbestos Licensing, part of the current Control of Asbestos Regulations, is a “permissioning regime” that first came into play in the UK in August 1983 and exist to ensure that all employees working with asbestos undergo statutory medical examinations, as well as regulating the HSE licences that must be obtained by all contractors who need to work in areas containing asbestos insulation or coatings. Prior to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, these existed as an entity in their own right, but were revoked and the licensing and notification now regulated by CAR 2012.
Why the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 were required
Asbestos is currently classified as a category 1 carcinogen and it is estimated that at least 5000 deaths each year in the UK are related to asbestos exposure. In 1983, the use of amosite and crocidolite (2 different types of asbestos) were banned, but before then were commonly used in a range of sectors including construction and engineering due to their insulation and soundproof properties. When the health issues that arise from exposure to broken asbestos became clear, the government banned both (and eventually all types of asbestos in 1999), and introduced the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 to control the use and exposure of all working with the material, as well as ensuring employees working with asbestos undergo statutory medical examinations.
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
The Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 were in place for 29 years until they were revoked and superseded by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Under these umbrella regulations, there exists the Asbestos Licensing Unit (ALU), the role of which is to set the national standards for asbestos assessment and ensure standards are adopted fairly throughout the country, without prejudice.
Those working with asbestos must hold a HSE licence and are monitored by ALU. All site visits and assessments must be recorded by the contractor and sent to ALU, who will build a case file for each contractor and from this make the decision whether the renew/issue licences. There are 6 core requirements which contractors must meet to obtain a licence. These are:
- thorough preparation and plans for the work planned involving asbestos
- a commitment to continuous improvement
- the demonstration of organisational and individual competence
- an extensive knowledge of the industry
- a willingness to be accountable for your company's performance
- the provision of evidence of effective health and safety management systems
If a contractor cannot meet any or all of these, it is highly unlikely a license will be issued.
More information on the Licence application process can be found on the HSE website.
The Asbestos Liaison Group (ALG)
In addition to ALU, the ALG also exist under CAR 2012. The ALG meet quarterly to set industry standards and discuss any new developments; they also produce memos which are issued to all license-holders and contain strategic guidance for the ongoing work with asbestos. Organisations included in ALG include employee organisations, trade associations and regulators.
Breaches of the Asbestos (Licencing) Regulations
If contractors breach CAR 2012 or any regulations within it, they will be subject to fines and court costs, the severity of which will be decided on a case by case basis. Some recent examples include:
- In 2012, a building contractor in Suffolk was fined £10,000 and a further £6000 in court costs after breaching regulations 8(1) and 11(1)(a) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
Open bags of broken asbestos ceiling boards had been left on the front lawn of the house they were working in. The homeowners were left to dispose of these themselves and were only made aware of the potential hazards at the local recycling facility. The contractor had prior asbestos knowledge and had worked with it before, however no surveys had been done and they had assumed that asbestos was not present.
- In 2016, a major food manufacturer was fined £120,000 and court costs of £13,589 for failings made during building work where asbestos was disturbed but not properly dealt with. The contractor they were working with was also fined a further £45,000 and court costs of £4,529 for their part in the demolition issues.
Workers on the site were not wearing protective clothing, and broken asbestos was found in a skip outside full of debris. Surveys had not been done before the demolition started so workers were not aware that asbestos was present. The HSE executive who led the investigation stated that the asbestos was “unknowingly broken up”; however, this does not excuse the basic failings in checking for asbestos prior to work starting.
- Also in 2016, an Irish dairy farm was fined £30,000 plus costs after ventilation engineers were exposed to asbestos fibres during construction work. The farm had also failed to update its asbestos register for several years, as it was later found that the findings of an asbestos survey carried out 10 years prior to the incident in 2006 had not been recorded, therefore workers had no idea asbestos was present in the area they were working in.
Despite an asbestos management survey being undertaken in 2007, the findings had not been recorded on the asbestos register, and not had any type of asbestos management plan been developed. No type of demolition or refurbishment survey had been done before the 2016 works commenced. Therefore, this incident could have been easily avoided, as asbestos had been found on the original survey in the place the workers became exposed to broken fibres, had the farm updated its register and completed the actions to become fully compliant.