Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre with numerous useful properties, including fire resistance, chemical resistance and waterproofing abilities. Considering these properties, it is easy to see why asbestos was used so widely throughout the construction industry prior to the turn of the millennium. However, with time came the alarming realisation that asbestos was a highly dangerous and carcinogenic material. Tragically, asbestos exposure can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare but very serious cancer of the lung lining), pleural disease and asbestosis. A horrifying number of people have lost their lives to the health complications of asbestos exposure. For this reason, work with asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) is now tightly regulated by an expanse of legislation. Here are a few of the commonly encountered asbestos containing materials (ACMs): cladding, insulation boards, roof shingles, tiles and textiles.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 outlines the way in which ACMs must be managed. The regulations outline who is the designated duty holder for the ACMs and sets out their responsibilities. Duty holders come in a range of shapes and sizes, including building owners, the person in control of a building and those responsible for a building's maintenance and repair. Once identified, the duty holder has a range of responsibilities, which are summarised below.
- Determining the likelihood of encountering asbestos in the building.
- Completing an asbestos survey.
- Recording any identified ACMs in an asbestos register.
- Deciding on and undertaking necessary action to address risks.
- Providing information to those at risk.
- Regularly reviewing and updating the asbestos register and management plan.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 does not exclusively cover asbestos, but instead spans a range of occupational risks. The Act outlines the responsibilities of employers, self-employed and premises controllers in protecting the health and safety of employers and others. The Act also brought about introduction of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which has regulated occupational health and safety across the UK for over 40 years. The first part of the Act is largely about identifying responsibility, which extends to employers, contractors, suppliers, designers, manufacturers, importers and employees.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Whilst the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 largely focused on identifying responsibility, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 tackle risk head on. The Act promotes risk assessment and highlights the need for health and safety training. It also stresses the importance of conducting regular and extensive risk assessments, concentrating on all risks posed to employees whilst at work and additionally any risks posed to non-employees through the work. The provision of health and safety training is identified as a fundamental way to mitigate risk, protecting employers and employees alike. Helpfully, the Act includes a list of prevention principles which include risk avoidance, evaluations and tackling a risk at its source.
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 concentrate on the implementation of systematic framework as a way of reducing risk. The Act extends risk to all those who are working on a building, namely the designers, suppliers and construction team. It is the explicit duty of anyone working on a project to report to their senior if they become aware of any health and safety risks; this immediate escalation should help to nip risks in the bud before harm occurs. Creating a health and safety plan and file is useful in documenting risk, who it affects and what is being done about this. These resources can easily change hands and be made available to all who need them. Passing knowledge of risk and risk assessment between professionals helps to achieve transparency and safety, which is in the best interest of us all.
Why is Asbestos Legislation Important?
In light of the abundance of asbestos legislation we've covered, it is clear that asbestos is a matter of national and in fact international importance. This is largely since asbestos exposure has resulted in an inordinate amount of unnecessary deaths around the world. Simple yet effective measures can and must be implemented to reduce the amount of people exposed to the hazardous fibres. Asbestos awareness and training are pivotal tools in ensuring asbestos risks are kept to a minimum, therefore avoiding unnecessary suffering and deaths.