July 26, 2016

Is your business doing enough to manage asbestos risks?

A UK car manufacturer has been fined £120,000 for failing to protect workers from the risks of asbestos at one of its sites. The prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who also secured a conviction against a Kent school and building contractor for the same offence in January 2016.

It’s no surprise the HSE takes cases concerning asbestos very seriously: the toxic substance accounts for the deaths of approximately 5,000 workers every year, more than the total number of deaths on UK roads.

Asbestos can be found within any premises built or refurbished before the year 2000, so there’s a very real risk that other businesses – including yours – are unknowingly at risk.

Who is affected by asbestos and what are their legal duties?

There is a strict duty of care on business owners and tenants of non-domestic premises to comply with legislation relating to the management of asbestos. Any building constructed before November 24 1999 (when all forms of asbestos were formally banned in the UK) could have asbestos within it, and failing to identify its presence could put employees and contractors at risk.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 updated and enhanced previous asbestos regulations in an attempt to simplify the legislation.

An organisation now has a legal duty to implement an asbestos management plan if asbestos-containing materials are found at their business premises. This should include control measures to adequately manage the risk of human exposure to asbestos fibres. Anyone who has responsibility for maintaining and repairing business premises must carry out assessments to identify and manage risks from the potential presence of asbestos.

Usually, building contractors will ask to see an asbestos survey before commencing work on a site.

The survey would identify the location of the asbestos, type, any existing control measures in place, and whether the asbestos should be removed before work starts.

Asbestos on business premises – what are the risks?

When asbestos containing materials are disturbed or damaged, the asbestos fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

The health risks remained hidden for decades: these illnesses take many years to develop, and by the time symptoms appear it’s too late to treat the disease.

There are many types of asbestos and, until the risks were identified in the late 1990s, it was widely used in construction.

What do you have to do?

The potential risks will vary on each individual site and could arise from anything from the normal occupation of a building to accidental disturbance during repairs, refurbishment or demolition.

The findings of a risk assessment should be used to produce an asbestos management plan, which will include details of any asbestos and the action needed to manage and reduce the risks.

For advice and guidance on ensuring your business is legally compliant, or to check your health and safety management programmes are suitable and sufficient, call our Health & Safety Adviceline on 0844 391 1921 or contact the team.

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About the author

Michael Sturgess