June 15, 2015

New asbestos rules – your employees could need Health Surveillance

Does your business work with asbestos? If so, your employees may be required to be under surveillance by a doctor.

A new law, which came into force in April 2015, states that any employee or self-employed contractor undertaking “Notifiable Non-Licensed Asbestos Work” must be subject to Health Surveillance by a doctor.

However, this level of surveillance does not only apply to people undertaking licensed work.

What type of work does this apply to?

Notifiable Non-Licenced Asbestos Work includes (but is limited to):

  • Large-scale removal of textured decorative coatings using steaming or gelling methods (eg beyond that required for maintenance activities such as installation/replacement of smoke alarms and fittings)

Minor, short duration work:

  • to remove asbestos insulating board as part of a refurbishment project
  • involving asbestos insulation (eg repairing minor damage to a small section of pipeinsulation where the exterior coating has been broken or damaged)

Removal of:

  • asbestos cement products (eg roof sheeting) where the material has been substantially damaged or broken up (eg as a result of fire or flood damage)
  • asbestos cement products (eg roof sheeting) where the removal activity will mean that the material will be substantially broken up, creating significant quantities of dust and debris (eg ‘dropping’ an asbestos cement roof)
  • asbestos paper and cardboard products if not firmly bonded in a matrix

You can find out more about how to determine if work is ‘Notifiable on:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/licensing/notifiable-non-licensed-work.htm

What are the health risks of exposure to asbestos fibres?

Asbestos is responsible for over 5000 deaths every year. If younger people are routinely exposed to asbestos fibres, they are at greater risk of developing asbestos-related diseases than older workers.

It takes time for the body to develop symptoms after exposure to asbestos (latency).

Exposure to asbestos can cause four main diseases:

  • Mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs; it is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos)
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer (which is almost always fatal)
  • Asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs which is not always fatal but can be a very debilitating disease, greatly affecting quality of life)
  • Diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs which can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness)

What are the Health Surveillance Requirements for Notifiable Non-Licenced Work?

  • All Workers undertaking this type of work should have had a medical examination prior to April 2015.
  • If your employees undertake such work and haven’t been subject to Medical Examination this should be done now.
  • Examinations will then need to be repeated at least every 3 years, as long as the worker continues to do NNLW.
  • After April 2015, workers carrying out NNLW for the first time will have to have an examination before they can start such work.

Examinations must include:

  • medical examinations must include an examination of the chest and a lung function test
  • they need to be carried out by a licensed medical practitioner, eg a GP
  • those workers already under surveillance via a licensed contractor and in possession of a valid certificate do not need to have the NNLW medical
  • medical examinations should be carried out in work time at the employers’ expense
  • the fee should be agreed with the doctor before the examination is carried out- HSE can accept no responsibility for remuneration matters
  • the doctor must issue a certificate to confirm the examination has taken place and on what date – the employer needs to keep this certificate for 4 years

Guidance for doctors conducting these medical examinations is available online:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ms34.htm

If you need advice on this subject, contact our Health & Safety team and we’ll help you.

Want to know about other compliance issues that could affect you? View our HR articles.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin