Asbestos-related illnesses are responsible for around 4000 deaths each year according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A large number of fines continue to be imposed for breaches of asbestos legislation each month.

In July a Teeside Council was fined a total of £20,000 after pleading guilty to two breaches of asbestos control regulations. The breaches included a failure to make an assessment of the risk created by asbestos before beginning clearance work on a site, and a failure to take steps to prevent or reduce the spread of asbestos in relation to workers at this site.

The following week a school in Dorset was fined a total of £60,000 and the director of a company responsible for the refurbishment project at that school fined a total of £10,000 for similar breaches. The HSE investigation found there had been inadequate planning, along with a failure to carry out a full asbestos survey or to appoint a Construction Design and Management coordinator under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

On 23 July a tour operator and ship management firm were also subject to fines in relation to refurbishment work on board a cruise ship. The tour operator was fined £6,000 and the ship management company £12,000 for instructing labourers to carry out work without the required asbestos survey.

This month prosecutions have been brought against two individuals in relation to their fraudulent claims that a school in Abingdon had been properly cleaned of asbestos. The two men falsified a clearance report indicating that an asbestos assessment had been carried out. They were fined totals of £4,000 and £1,000 respectively.

Given the number of incidents that continue to arise in this context it is clear that an understanding of the legal framework for the control of asbestos is crucial. The current regime is found in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which revised the earlier Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The new regulations introduced a number of changes in April this year, though much of the regulatory framework largely remains the same.

The current regulations require dutyholders to manage the risk of asbestos by -

  • Ascertaining whether asbestos is present in the premises (or assessing if asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are liable to be present and making a presumption that materials do contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence that they do not), ascertaining its location and the condition it is in;
  • Making and keeping an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the ACMs or presumed ACMs in the premises;
  • Assessing the risk from the material;
  • Preparing a plan that sets out in detail how the risk from this material is going to be managed;
  • Taking the steps needed to put the plan into action;
  • Reviewing and monitoring the plan and the arrangements made to put it in place;
  • Setting up a system for providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it; and
  • Complying with the requirements to have any asbestos-related work carried out by a licensed contractor in the majority of cases (including most asbestos removal work, all work with sprayed asbestos coatings and asbestos lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board.)

Generally the changes introduced by the 2012 Regulations simply provide additional requirements in relation to certain ‘non-licensed’ work. This includes a requirement for employers to (i) provide notification of the work; (ii) ensure workers have a medical examination at least once every three years; and (iii) keep a record of the type and duration of work done with asbestos for 40 years along with copies of all medical records. For a more detailed discussion of the impact of these changes please click here

Further information on controlling asbestos can be found on the HSE’s website