Asbestos: how to manage a hidden danger

Gavin Scarr Hall - Director of Health and Safety

October 11 2022

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre, phenomenally resistant to chemicals, heat, water, and electricity, making it seem ideal as an insulator and building material. Its applications were near-limitless.

We now know that breathing in asbestos fibres can be fatal. Worse, you can’t even see, smell, or taste them. Once they become stuck in the lungs, they can cause serious illness and fatal cancers, like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Worldwide, 107,000 people die from exposure to asbestos every year. 5,000 deaths in the UK alone make it the biggest cause of work-related deaths in this country.

Asbestos has been fully banned in the UK since 1999, but it continues to be uncovered in buildings during maintenance, refurbishment and demolition projects. Anyone undertaking these activities is at risk from accidental exposure.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires strict measures for those working in demolition, maintenance or any other work which may expose workers to asbestos.

The regulations state that you must carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of any premises before works commence, to discover:

  • whether any asbestos is present in the building
  • where it is located; and
  • what condition it is currently in

This can be straightforward process. However, workers at Ensure Asbestos Management Limited were surveying and stripping out a former department store when they began to suspect they were in danger from asbestos exposure.

They were right. Ensure’s management weren’t taking the time to survey and properly remove the asbestos. A HSE investigation found that management deliberately cut corners, falsified documents and failed to manage the danger of asbestos exposure, putting their workers at serious risk.

Ensure Asbestos Management Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was fined £100,000.

The company director, Billy Hopwood, also pleaded guilty to the same charges. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison and disqualified from being a director for five years.

If you occupy non-domestic premises, you can avoid exposing workers to these risks by following eight key steps to manage asbestos:

  1. Find out who is responsible for managing asbestos for your premises
  2. Find out if the premises were built pre-2000
  3. Get hold of existing information on asbestos in your building
  4. Inspect your building for signs of asbestos
  5. Keep written records of your findings in an asbestos register
  6. Act on your findings
  7. Tell people about your findings and where the asbestos is
  8. Keep your records up to date

If you’re a builder, contractor or service provider working on somebody else’s premises, you must consider if the work you do is likely to disturb any asbestos present. Ask your client about their asbestos management plan and get a copy of their asbestos survey, so you can plan the work to avoid disturbing or damaging any materials.

Suggested Resources