Health and Safety Help! - Asbestos - the duties and the dangers

15 February 2016

The consequences of failing to identify and appropriately manage asbestos can be damaging, not only for the individual but also for the corporate entity.

The health and safety team has dealt with a number of asbestos cases recently. The consequences of failing to identify and appropriately manage asbestos can be damaging, not only for the individual but also for the corporate entity. Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 and therefore impacts property owners and managers and those in the construction industry in particular. Asbestos-related-diseases are responsible for 5,000 deaths per year.

This article plans to provide some advice and assistance in managing asbestos to ensure that the correct steps are followed.

The ‘duty’ to manage asbestos can be found in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. You will be a duty holder if:

  • you own the building
  • you are responsible through a contract or tenancy agreement
  • you have control of the building; or
  • you have taken responsibility for the maintenance or repairs.

As long as the asbestos-containing-material (ACM) is in good condition, and is not going to be disturbed or damaged there is negligible risk. But if it is disturbed or damaged it can become a danger to health.

The ‘duty’ to manage asbestos includes:

  • ascertaining the whereabouts of all ACM’s
  • making and keeping an up-to-date record of the location and conditions of the ACM’s (asbestos register)
  • undertaking a risk assessment
  • preparing a plan to manage that risk
  • implementing that plan
  • reviewing and monitoring the situation
  • providing information to anyone who is likely to work on or disturb asbestos.

In the majority of cases work with asbestos will need to be done by a licensed contractor, for example, most asbestos removal, all work with sprayed asbestos coatings and asbestos lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board (AIB). Even non-licensed asbestos work still requires effective controls. If there is any doubt at all regarding the type of material cease work immediately and instruct a licensed contractor to take core samples.

Training is mandatory for anyone liable to be exposed to asbestos fibres at work and this includes maintenance workers and others who may come into contact with or disturb asbestos (e.g. cable installers), as well as those involved in asbestos removal work.

Failing to comply with any of the duties highlighted above can have damaging consequences for your business; as a food company and contractor recently found out. The company and their contractor were prosecuted under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSAWA) and The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, and fined in excess of £150,000 after asbestos that was disturbed during building work was only identified by chance when an asbestos removal contractor attended site.

Those fines are expected to increase massively in light of the new sentencing guidelines that have been introduced.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding the duties and dangers regarding asbestos, please contact Julie Gowland. Law covered as at February 2016.