The importance of the requirements on employers to carry out risk assessments and manage asbestos has been hammered home in two recent cases.
A Lancashire hotel was recently fined £16,000 and ordered to pay £9,075 in costs after its spa manager was engulfed in a fireball. She was using acetone to remove a customer’s artificial nails when some of the acetone spilled and fumes from it were ignited by a nearby tealight. The spa manager suffered burns to 15% of her body including her chest, neck and arms and required skin grafts at hospital. It transpired that the acetone was stored in a 2.5 litre container. The Court agreed with HSE investigating officers who considered that the hotel had not adequately assessed the risks associated with storing the acetone in such a large container and also the proximity of the tealight. If the acetone had been stored in a smaller container, spillage would have been much less likely. In addition, flammable substances should not be stored near open flames.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers and the self-employed to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the risks to both employees and persons not in their employment. The law does not require all risks to be eliminated but people should be protected as far as is “reasonably practicable”.
In addition, for beauty salons and spas, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 require a suitable assessment of risks associated with the exposure of employees to any substances hazardous to health - for example solvents in nail varnish removers and dust fillings from artificial nails.
Given that few workplaces stay the same, risk assessments should also be reviewed periodically to ensure they remain up to date.
A London hostel was recently fined £39,000 and ordered to pay over £12,000 in costs for failure to have an asbestos management survey and for arranging for fireplace panels which contained asbestos to be removed by an unlicensed contractor without the proper controls to ensure the safety of the contractor, employees and guests.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 require “dutyholders” i.e. owners and occupiers of nondomestic premises with maintenance and repair responsibilities to assess and manage the risks from asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Dutyholders must have a written plan showing the location of ACMs demonstrating how exposure to contractors and other workers will be prevented. The dutyholder should ensure the plan is reviewed regularly.
ACMs do not always have to be removed simply because they are there. Where ACMs are in good condition and, left undisturbed will not release fibres into the air, it may be safer to leave them in place and manage them. It is important to record this in the asbestos register and management plan.
Some ACMs can be made safe by sealing and encapsulating them. However, if the ACMs cannot be repaired, the dutyholder should ensure that they are removed. For the majority of work in relation to ACM management, whether repair, encapsulation or removal, only trained and competent contractors who have a licence should carry out work on ACMs.
According to the HSE, asbestos is the single greatest cause of workrelated deaths in the UK and breach of the legislation renders the offender liable to serious penalties including an unlimited fine or up to two years’ imprisonment or both.