Parliamentary Group calls for eradication of all asbestos in Britain
A report published on 16th October 2015 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health has called for urgent action to eradicate asbestos that remains in Britain's workplaces and public buildings.
This year according to official figures 5,000 people in Britain are likely to die prematurely as a result of asbestos exposure. This is around three times the number of road accident deaths.
Everyone who is dying now from asbestos exposure was exposed decades ago. Exposure to asbestos was common amongst occupations such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians but also occurred amongst workers with no history of work in the construction related sector who are likely to be affected through exposure in the workplace. This includes shop workers, healthcare workers, telephone engineers, finance workers and increasingly those exposed to asbestos in public buildings such as teachers and healthcare workers. Asbestos is present in around 75% of schools. There is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibre. This means that the inhalation of small quantities even over a short period can lead to mesothelioma decades after exposure. We at Fieldfisher act for many victims who have only been exposed to tiny amounts of asbestos dust, decades past.
The death rate is not due to decline until 2020. However asbestos is still with us and is as still as dangerous as ever. Asbestos containing materials can be found in around half a million non-domestic properties. It is present in a range of different forms including lagging, on pipes and boilers; sprayed asbestos on pipes in voids; asbestos cement in the form of roofing, wall cladding, guttering, pipes, water tanks and corrugated sheets; insulating boards; tiling; textured wall coatings; and asbestos rope and cloth. Often it is either hidden or had not been identified. This means that people are still being exposed and at risk to being exposed to asbestos. It is often people who are working in maintenance refurbishment or demolition where people can and are exposed as fibres can become dislodged and breathed in.
From 2004 there has been a specific duty on employers to manage existing asbestos in buildings and in 2006 all the existing Regulations were pulled together in one single Regulation that states:
- If asbestos containing materials are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged they can be left in place and their condition monitored to ensure they are not disturbed.
- Those responsible for the maintenance of non-domestic premises have a duty to manage the asbestos in them.
- To protect anyone using or working in the premises and before doing any building or maintenance work that might contain asbestos it needs to be identified, the risks assessed and managed and controlled.
- Removal needs to be done by a licensed contractor and training is required for anyone likely to be exposed to asbestos at work.
Despite this, asbestos is still in place in buildings places a major hazard to both workers and the wider public. It is the view of the All-Party Parliamentary Group that retaining a policy of managing asbestos in place is no longer appropriate and must be changed. It is extremely unlikely, in their opinion, that asbestos is never going to be disturbed if it is left in place for decades. We know that all premises are not surveyed. A 2010 survey of 600 schools showed that only 28% of respondents said the presence of asbestos containing materials were clearly marked. In addition there is a clear lack of awareness amongst those most at risk. In 2014, when asked by the HSE, only 30% of 500 trades people who were asked were able to identify all the correct measures for working safely with asbestos.
According to the Group the only way we will eradicate mesothelioma in Britain is by removing asbestos. Other countries are already developing eradication plans. In 2013 Australia set up an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency with the specific goal of removing asbestos from public and commercial buildings and Poland has also made a commitment to remove all asbestos by 2032. The European Parliament has called for the removal of asbestos for all European public buildings by 2028.
The Group believes we need a new law on asbestos and a clear timetable for its eradication in Britain. It recommends such a law should include provisions that:
- All commercial public and rented and domestic premises have to conduct and register with the HSE a survey by a registered consultant which indicates whether asbestos material is present and in what condition.
- Where asbestos is identified in any premises or refurbishment repair or remedial work done in the vicinity of the asbestos containing material it should include the removal of asbestos. Where no such works takes place or is planned within the foreseeable future the duty holder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos which ensures that removal is completed as soon as reasonably practicable but certainly no later than 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments such as schools this should be done by 2028.
- The HSE, Local Authorities and other enforcing agencies must develop a program of workplace inspections to verify that all asbestos containing material identified is properly marked and managed and that asbestos eradication plans are in place. Resources should be made available to the enforcing agencies to ensure that all workplaces and public places are complying with the Regulation relating to management and removal and that disposal is being done responsibly and safely.
- Before any house sale is completed a survey should be done which includes a survey of the presence of asbestos. Any asbestos containing materials should be labelled. Information on the presence of asbestos should be given to any contractor working on the house.
Ian Lavery, Chair of the All-Party Group says:
"There is far too much complacency about the asbestos which we can still find in hundreds of thousands of work places as well as a majority of schools where children face exposure to this killer dust.
We believe that the Government needs to start now in developing a program to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from every workplace and public place so that we can end once and for all this dreadful legacy which has killed so many people and will continue to kill until asbestos is eradicated."
Fieldfisher as members of the Asbestos Subcommittee of the Group fully support the initiative. Peter Williams, Head of the Asbestos Claims at Fieldfisher says:
"Only by eradicating asbestos in buildings can future generations be safe from the terrible effects of asbestos disease."