Control of Asbestos Regulations
The current Control of Asbestos Regulations came into force 5 years ago in April 2012 and updated/replaced the 2006 law. Partly this was to introduce new requirements for how work being carried out in Asbestos areas is notified, medical surveillance, record keeping and changing how areas are designated as to show others that asbestos is present.
What is Asbestos & Why is it Dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with extremely high resistance to fire, electricity, chemicals and water. It does not decay or decompose and adds fibrous strength when mixed with other materials. Thanks to these properties, it has been used for centuries in many aspects of building and construction, as well as in lesser quantities in the automotive industry for brake linings and clutch pads.
The major problem with asbestos is how the fibres react to the human body, primarily the lungs, once inhaled. As asbestos fibres do not break down, evaporate in air or dissolve in water, they can become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat and then become deeply embedded in the lungs. Over time, this will cause the affected person to suffer health problems.
There are 3 primary diseases associated with exposure to asbestos. These are:
Mesothelioma – a rare form of cancer that occurs in the thin membrane lung lining. Virtually all cases are linked with asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis – the lung tissues become aggravated by the asbestos fibres and causes scarring. This is turn then leads to shortness of breath, which will become worse over time.
Lung Cancer – statistically, this causes the largest number of deaths related to exposure to asbestos.
It is important to note that asbestos is only really dangerous when it has been broken and is friable (can be easily crumbled by hand). This is because the fibres are released into the air and easily spread over a distance to be inhaled or ingested. This means that anyone undertaking work with or near materials made of or containing asbestos needs to be properly kitted out for the job so as to prevent against the risk of inhalation.
Why Control of Asbestos Regulations are Needed
The original Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations were introduced in the UK 1983 alongside the ban on amosite and crocidolite (two different iterations of asbestos) in 1985 as it had become shockingly clear how dangerous the fibres were to human health. Since then, these have undergone various iterations to the current 2012 Regulations – and all types of asbestos were banned in 1999.
The regulations were originally formed to set in place legal requirements for contractors to be licensed to work with asbestos. These requirements are still in place but have been heavily evolved so now all work involving asbestos MUST be undertaken by a licensed contractor and a full pre-works submission plan has to be approved by HSE first.
In terms of how the current regulations act to protect workers against the risk of asbestos, they place legal duties on those in control of works with asbestos to manage the risks from any fibres present. This includes employers, company owners and building site operators. All preliminary site inspections must include an asbestos survey to determine whether it is present before works commence, and if so, proper precautions and procedures need to be laid out and followed by all parties to ensure worker safety and those in the surrounding area.
Prosecutions under the Control of Asbestos Regulations
Any company found to be breaching these Regulations is in for a hefty penalty and even imprisonment, due to the high risk of damage to the health of those working in the area.
Examples of this include:
2012 – A specialist laboratory design and installation company was found guilty and fined in May 2015 after exposing workers, teachers and pupils to asbestos fibres during the refurbishment of a science block at a school in Newmarket.
The company had failed to undertake a detailed refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey and as a consequence subcontractors were removing a wall and channelling the floor when they came across and disturbed asbestos.
Total fine: £22,400
Total costs: £11,700
2015 – The leaseholder of a restaurant in North Somerset was fined for illegally removing asbestos from the premises, and failing to take suitable measures to control the spread of asbestos fibres. The asbestos insulation board soffits were removed during ongoing construction works at the restaurant, of which the leaseholder was in control of, and left in a public place at the side of the building.
Total fine: £10,000
Total costs: £5,500 (including a victim surcharge of £500)