The nature of construction work means that there is often a risk of exposure to asbestos, particularly in demolition and refurbishment work.

The law on asbestos is primarily contained in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, in particular under Regulation 4 there is a duty to manage asbestos. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations 1999 are also relevant.

If it is a construction project then the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 need to be considered as well.

Despite the legislation and the fact that it is well known that asbestos can kill, the number of prosecutions make rather depressing reading. Recent cases include:  

  • A council who purchased a building that was known to contain asbestos. The council decided to contain the asbestos but failed to manage it properly. The HSE investigation found that, for more than four years while the asbestos deteriorated, the council did not prevent exposure to those working or visiting the building.
  • A property developer who instructed contractors to remove sprayed coating containing asbestos from steel beams without undertaking a survey of the property for asbestos before work started.
  • And the most cavalier approach to asbestos of all, a principal contractor who was in possession of a survey which stated that in places a licensed contractor was required to remove asbestos, employing an unlicensed individual who used, among others, two men he had met socially to carry out the work - without telling them the contents of the asbestos survey. The result - not only were the workers exposed to asbestos but so also was the driver of the skip removal lorry.  

The moral of the tale is always be alert to the possibility of asbestos and ensure all necessary precautions are taken. For further information see www.hse.gov.uk.

More information on the duty to manage asbestos can be found here.