The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to conduct their work in such a way that their employees will not be exposed to health and safety risks. They must also provide information about their workplace which might affect their health and safety. A key element of this duty is to ensure that any asbestos-containing materials in the workplace are managed effectively so that they do not put the safety of employees at risk.
Why do employers need to manage asbestos?
Asbestos use in the construction and refurbishment of buildings is now illegal in the UK. However, it was extensively used in the 20th century and, as a result, any buildings built before 2000 may still contain asbestos.
If asbestos is disturbed or damaged, releasing fibres into the air, these fibres may be inhaled, leading to asbestos-related diseases, including:
Workers who carry out building maintenance and repair are particularly at risk.
Past exposure to asbestos currently kills around 4500 people a year, so it is crucial that employers protect their employees from the risk of these life-threatening diseases by ensuring that any asbestos in the workplace is managed properly.
What do employers need to do?
The duty to manage asbestos is detailed in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Employers need to manage the risks by:
- Finding out if there is asbestos in the premises and, if so, its location and condition
- Maintaining an up-to-date record of the location and condition of any asbestos-containing materials on the premises
- Assessing the risk from the material
- Preparing a plan to manage the risk from the material
- Taking 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 reporting on the location and the material to anyone who might work on it or disturb it
What should happen if there is asbestos in the building that represents a risk to employees?
Depending on its condition, some damaged asbestos can be dealt with by repairing it and either sealing it or enclosing it to prevent further damage. Once it has been dealt with, the area must be marked, and it must be included in the employer’s record of asbestos locations.
If the asbestos cannot easily be repaired and protected, it will need to be removed. The work must be carried out by someone trained and competent to carry out the task, usually an HSE licensed contractor.
What should happen if the asbestos in the building does not represent a risk?
If any asbestos-containing materials in the building are in good condition and the employer decides that it is safe to leave it in place, they must keep a record of the location and the condition it is in and ensure that this is kept up to date.
They must also ensure that everyone who needs to know about the asbestos is told about its presence. It is good practice to label the asbestos-containing materials with an asbestos warning sign.
Thereafter, it is important to continue to manage the risks from asbestos left in the building. Employers must regularly reinspect any asbestos-containing materials on the premises and keep their records up to date. They must also regularly check that the arrangements they have put in place to control the risks are working effectively.