Asbestos-related illnesses are responsible for around 4000 deaths each year according to fi gures from the HSE. A large number of fi nes continue to be imposed for breaches of asbestos legislation each month.

In July a school in Dorset was fi ned a total of £60,000 and the director of a company responsible for the refurbishment project at that school fi ned a total of £10,000 for breaches of asbestos control regulations. 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.

The following week a tour operator and ship management fi rm were also subject to fi nes in relation to refurbishment work on board a cruise ship. The tour operator was fi ned £6,000 and the ship management company £12,000 for instructing labourers to carry out work without the required asbestos survey.

In August prosecutions were brought against two individuals in relation to their fraudulent claims that a school in Abingdon had been properly cleaned of asbestos. The two men falsifi ed a clearance report indicating that an asbestos assessment had been carried out. They were fi ned totals of £4,000 and £1,000 respectively.

Later that month two companies were prosecuted after workers were exposed to asbestos fi bres at a mill in Bolton. Both the owner of the mill and the letting agent pled guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the owner of the mill also admitted a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 by failing to properly assess the risks from asbestos at the site.

In September a property restoration company in Lincolnshire was fi ned for creating public exposure to asbestos. The company placed material in an open skip in the early stages of stripping out a building which contained asbestos insulating board. The company was fi ned for two breaches of the 2006 Regulations.

In the same week a director of a firm in Bromley was given a suspended jail sentence in connection with asbestos offences. The sole director of the firm carried out asbestos removal work, despite not being licensed to do so, and deceived householders by falsifying tests which showed the area as ‘safe’ following the work. He was given six months’ prison sentence on each charge, to run concurrently and suspended for two years; 300 hours’ unpaid community service; an electronic curfew between 9pm and 6am for three months; ordered to pay £11,340 to the affected Residents’ Association in Camden and ordered to pay £10,160 costs.

On 8 October a company in Wokingham was fined for failing to relay information to sub-contractors regarding the presence of asbestos. As the principal contractor the company had a duty of care to the sub-contractors on the site to make them aware of asbestos containing materials on the site. The sub-contractors carried out the work in the belief that all asbestos material had been previously removed.

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 notifi cation 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.

Further information on controlling asbestos can be found on the HSE’s website at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/index.htm