Control of Asbestos Regulations
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. They have been updated several times since, with the Regulations in 2006 amalgamated to bring together 3 pieces of previous asbestos legislation – the 'Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002', the 'Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983' and the 'Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1992’.
These have now been updated to become the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which ensures the legislation is fully compliant with the EU Directive 2009/148/EC on the exposure of asbestos regulations as set out by the European Commission. The changes made to update the legislation surround notification of work, record keeping and medical surveillance.
What do the Regulations Do?
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 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. 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.
Those working with asbestos must hold a HSE licence and are monitored by the Asbestos Licensing Unit (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.
New requirements were also introduced in 2012 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.
If work is carried out at a site where asbestos is known to be present without meeting all points outlined, hefty fines will be levied and prosecution is also possible.
The Asbestos Liaison Group (ALG)
In addition to ALU, the ALG also exist under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 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.
Why the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 were required
In 1983, the use of amosite and crocidolite (2 different types of asbestos) were banned as it had become shockingly clear how dangerous the fibres were to human health. Before then, these 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.
To date, 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.
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.
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. It sounds great and 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.
However, 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.
Symptoms do not develop immediately and can take anywhere between 15-60 years to show; younger people who have been exposed are at greater risk of developing health issues related to asbestos due to the period in which the diseases develop.
Asbestos is directly responsible for over 4000 deaths each year, although this figure is shrinking due to increased awareness and stringent legislation surrounding the use and handling of asbestos and products containing 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.
Common materials containing Asbestos
Asbestos was very commonly used in the construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing trades until 1999. Many buildings and components contain asbestos and it is not always easily identified without trained surveillance. These include:
- Floor tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Textiles including fire blankets and fire suits
- Asbestos cement – used on roofs and exterior building panels
- Pipe lagging and insulation
- Windowsills and panelling
- Textured ceiling coatings
- External building panels
- Automotive parts including brakes, valves and gaskets
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:
2012 - a building contractor in Suffolk was fined 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.
Total fine: £10,000
Total costs: £16,000
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 sub-contractors were removing a wall and channelling the floor when they came across, and disturbed, asbestos present.
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)
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 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.
Total fine: £120,000
Total costs: £133,589
Contractor also fined:
Total fine: £45,000
Total costs: £44,529
2016 - an Irish dairy farm was fined 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.
Total fine: £30,000 plus costs
Did You Know…?
- There are 6 forms of asbestos but only 3 have been commonly used in the past – Amosite, -Chrysotile and Crocidolite.
- Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral, so it is shocking that it can do so much damage to the human body.
- Asbestos has been used for at least the last 4,500 years, originally as part of ceramic cooking pots in East Finland.
- Not all countries have banned the use of asbestos – India, China and Brazil all have continued widespread use of the material.
- 1000 tons of Asbestos were released into the air upon the collapse of the Twin Towers in NYC, 2001 and many thousands of people have died and are thought to be at risk as a result of this exposure across the city.
Asbestos Training Courses
HSE Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012