Asbestos regulations in the UK can be a little tricky to understand. There are a few different regulations that impact upon those working where asbestos could be present. So, this article outlines the legal landscape with respect to asbestos.
Firstly, why do so many asbestos regulations exist?
When asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibres which can be breathed in.. Over time, these fibres accumulate in the lungs causing cancer and other illnesses. The longer you work with asbestos, the higher the risks.
Regulations exist to try to ensure the risk of exposure in the workplace is minimised by ensuring employers put in place adequate safeguards to protect employees.
How much airborne asbestos is safe?
Asbestos exists naturally in the air and can be measured at around one asbestos fibre, or less, in every 10 Litres of air.
Its friability means that it is very easy to become and stay airborne. Un-natural levels are when you will find more than one asbestos fibre per ten litres of air.
However, according to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the Control limit for asbestos exposure is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre. Equivalent of 1,000 asbestos fibres in 10 litres of air.
Work activities involving asbestos should be designed to be as far below the control limit as possible.
What are Asbestos health risks?
It is estimated that about 5,000 people die each year in the UK from asbestos-related diseases. Fatal Asbestos related diseases, usually occur many years after exposure. Illness include asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer.
The likelihood of developing an Asbestos related disease depends on the following factors:
• Asbestos type - some types release fibres more readily than others
• Age at first exposure - increased likelihood if exposed at a young age
• Number of and duration of exposures - which will directly influence the number of fibres inhaled
• Smoking - smokers who have also inhaled Asbestos are fifty times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers with the same Asbestos exposure.
Where is Asbestos Within Buildings?
The types of ACMs and their content of asbestos are shown in this which is in order of risk of fibre release if the material were disturbed.
- Sprayed Coating
- Up to 85%
- Thermal insulation - Lagging
- Up to 85%
- Fire resistant boards or AIB
- 16% - 40%
- Asbestos textile materials
- Up to 100%
- Asbestos papers
- Up to 100%
- Cement sheeting
- 10% - 15%
- 10% - 15%
- Vinyl floor tiles, linoleum
- Up to 25%
- Textured Coatings
- 3 - 5%
- Composite toilet cisterns
- 10 - 15%
- Asbestos plastics
- Less than 10%
Asbestos Regulations UK
Asbestos is subject to two sets of regulations
- REACH (the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulations 2007) and;
- CAR (Control of Asbestos Regulations of 2012).
REACH prohibits the importation, supply and use of asbestos. While CAR12 covers work with asbestos, and licensing of asbestos-removal activities.
(CAR12) The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 are the current UK regulations and are an update of the 2006 regulations. They apply to all works with asbestos, and affect both employers and employees.
Responsibilities are placed upon employers, employees and duty holders.
The duty holder could be an employer, another employer or a landlord or, in some situations, more than one of these.
These regulations are specific to asbestos and apply to both those who work with Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) and properties that have ACMs within, or on, their premises.
The main aim is on the employer to prevent exposure to their employees and other people who could be affected by the work. So for anyone with responsibility for any premises and building maintenance management there are now a number of clear implications which apply during routine maintenance work, and refurbishment projects.
This means that employers, building owners and landlords are obliged by law to protect their employees, the building occupants or tenants from being exposed to asbestos whilst working, visiting or living on the premises
Employer’s CAR12 Responsibilities
Employers have a duty to prevent employees, visitors and anyone else on site from being exposed to asbestos. They must issue the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when it is required, provide appropriate asbestos training and provide company procedures for employees to follow for incidents and decontamination.
Duty Holder’s Responsibilities:
The person in charge of the building (the duty holder) has a responsibility to identify, locate and manage the asbestos in any non-domestic building built after 1999. Common areas of domestic buildings such as flats and those domestic buildings owned by councils and housing associations are covered by Regulation 4 of CAR12:
Regulation 4 of CAR12 states that the person in charge of the building (The Duty Holder) shall ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment is, or is liable to be, present in any non-domestic building built before 2000.
They should ensure that:
- Account is taken of a buildings age, plans and information.
- Inspection is made of reasonably accessible areas.
- Where asbestos is shown to be present, there should be written plans made available identifying the location/ register.
- Measures are in place to manage the risks which are specified in the plan.
- Where asbestos is shown to be present, include measures for monitoring condition maintenance or removal as appropriate.
- Information must be made available to everybody that may disturb it.
- The plan is reviewed at suitable intervals.
- That any measures taken to implement the plan must be recorded. The Duty Holder must ensure that this information is available to those contracted to carry out works
Regulation 5 of CAR12: Identifying Asbestos
Regulation 5 dictates that employers must not undertake any work which may be liable to expose their employees to asbestos in a given premises.
They must carry out an assessment as to whether asbestos is present and decide if existing information is reliable, are surveys of the correct type and sufficiently detailed for the type of work being done. Information should also be part of the health & safety plan prepared by the CDM coordinator
Regulation 6 of CAR12: Assessment of Work
When planning work in premises employers must make and record an assessment of the risks from asbestos in accordance with Regulation 6 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
This risk assessment must be modified if there are changes in the work methods or in the conditions in the premises
Regulation 10 of CAR12: Training
As outlined in Regulation 10, employers must ensure that adequate information, instruction and training is given to all their employees liable to be exposed to asbestos. Employers must review training needs any time the job changes or different work practices are introduced
Other Relevant Legislation
There is plenty of other legislation that is relevant to asbestos awareness:
• The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that employers should make the work environment as safe as possible for employees.
This includes dealing with any threat of asbestos.
• RIDDOR, or the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations states that any incidents, including those involving asbestos, must be reported to the HSE.
• The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 state that everyone working construction must make sure the safest possible work environment.
• There is now only one Approved Code of Practice regarding asbestos which consolidated two previous ACoPs into a single revised ACoP. The updated edition of the HSE Approved Code of Practice for managing and working with asbestos known as ACoP L143 has been issued.
• The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 places a legal duty on employers to risk assess all work activities, tools and equipment etc. Where there are five or more people employed, the risk assessment should be written, documented and be available to all workers who may be at risk
Remember - Asbestos materials which are still in use today may remain in place, providing they are managed and kept in good condition and are not likely to deteriorate. As such, the law does not require their removal.
You must follow and asbestos safety training that you have been provided.
If you uncover any material which you suspect could contain asbestos, you must always assume it’s an ACM until proven otherwise by referring to the asbestos survey, or, if not previously surveyed, further testing by an asbestos consultant.
The following emergency procedure should be followed:
• Stop the work in the affected area immediately.
• The area must be cordoned off immediately and left undisturbed until the material is surveyed and test results are available.
• Contain the potential contamination if possible by shutting doors and windows ,shutting off air extraction and wetting down the material and surrounding surfaces,
• If your clothing is touched by what is confirmed as asbestos dust, and you’re qualified to do so, wet yourself down thoroughly before removing outer clothing and placing in a plastic bag.
• If you are not qualified to perform wetting down procedures on yourself, wait for assistance from someone who is qualified.
• Alert your supervisor or manager ASAP.
• Get Respiratory Protective Equipment ASAP.
Any employee who was not wearing adequate PPE or has been potentially exposed to asbestos fibres in an incident, must make a note that the exposure has occurred and this must be recorded on their employee health record. If the employee does not have a health record, the note must be made on that employee’s personal record.