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Legal Regulations Surrounding Asbestos Management

Asbestos-related deaths are the biggest contributor to work-related deaths in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 5,000 people die in Great Britain every year from asbestos-related diseases.

With asbestos being a highly hazardous material with well-known health risks, legal regulations play an essential role in ensuring the safe management of asbestos. Adhering to asbestos regulations extends beyond ensuring your compliance. Unsafe asbestos practices can have a direct impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals and the environment. 

This article explores the legal framework surrounding asbestos management, emphasising its relevance in safeguarding health and the environment.

Understanding asbestos

Understanding asbestos

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that are made up of tiny, invisible fibres that can stick to materials, such as clothing, or can be breathed in. Asbestos is resistant to fire, heat, electricity and corrosion and is known for its durability. Because of this, it was used in a variety of industries, specifically construction, to strengthen materials and make them fireproof. 

Six main types of asbestos were commonly used:

  1. Chrysotile: Known as white asbestos, this was the most commonly used type of asbestos. It was typically used in rooves, ceilings, walls and floors, as well as in the insulation of pipes, ducts, appliances and boiler seals. 
  2. Amosite: Known as brown asbestos, it was typically used in cement sheets and pipe insulation and is also found in ceiling tiles and insulation products. 
  3. Crocidolite: Known as blue asbestos, it was typically used to insulate steam engines, for pipe installation, in spray coatings and in plastic and cement products. 
  4. Anthophyllite: A less common type of asbestos, anthophyllite was used in some insulation products and construction materials. 
  5. Tremolite: Was often woven into fabric and used in products such as paint, sealants, insulation, roofing and plumbing materials. 
  6. Actinolite: Used in cement, insulation, paint and drywall.

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos can cause the fibres to become trapped in your body. Over time, these fibres can result in life-threatening health conditions. Asbestos exposure can result in the following diseases:

  • Mesothelioma: A serious cancer which affects the lining of the lungs and the lower digestive tract. Mesothelioma has extremely high fatality rates.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer: Asbestos exposure causes cancer to develop in the lung tissue. It often is not diagnosed until the late stages of the disease.
  • Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a serious, incurable condition that causes scarring in the lungs. It can cause shortness of breath, persistent coughing, extreme fatigue and pain in your chest and shoulders.
  • Pleural thickening: This occurs when asbestos causes the pleura (the lining of the lungs) to thicken and swell.
  • Other cancers: Asbestos has also been associated with cancer in the larynx, ovaries, pharynx, stomach and colorectum.

Because asbestos-related health conditions usually take a long time to present, many people were unaware of how dangerous asbestos is and the use of asbestos was not banned in the UK until 1999. However, with many buildings in the UK predating 1999, asbestos still poses a significant risk. Asbestos is only dangerous if it is disturbed or damaged, for example, during construction. This means that people who work in older buildings are at risk of being exposed to asbestos if the risks are not managed effectively. Activities that are most likely to disturb asbestos include:

  • Drilling into walls.
  • Demolishing buildings.
  • Refurbishing or retrofitting.
  • Installing in a wall (e.g. installing a smart meter).
  • Carrying out routine building maintenance.

Asbestos fibres remain airborne for a long time before they settle on surfaces. If asbestos settles on your clothing and you wash it in a normal washing machine, it is likely to contaminate other clothing in the machine.

UK legal framework for asbestos

UK legal framework

Many people need to be aware of the legal framework regarding asbestos, including:

  • Duty holders: Duty holders are responsible for managing the risk of asbestos in non-domestic premises. This includes identifying the presence of asbestos, assessing its condition and implementing control measures to mitigate risks.
  • Building owners and landlords: They are responsible for ensuring appropriate asbestos checks and inspections have taken place. 
  • Employers of anyone who may come into contact with asbestos: Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees. In the context of asbestos, this includes providing information, training and protective equipment to workers who may be exposed to asbestos.
  • Employees: Employees have a responsibility to follow safe working practices, use protective equipment and participate in training to minimise the risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Asbestos professionals: Qualified asbestos professionals, such as asbestos surveyors and removal contractors, play a vital role in assessing and managing asbestos risks. They must comply with relevant regulations and guidelines, including obtaining necessary certifications. 
  • Enforcing authorities: Local authorities act as enforcing authorities for certain aspects of asbestos regulation. They may carry out inspections, investigate complaints and take enforcement action to ensure compliance.
  • The Health and Safety Executive: The HSE is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws in the UK. It provides guidance, conducts inspections and takes enforcement action against any cases of non-compliance with asbestos regulations.

In the UK, asbestos safety is covered by a comprehensive legal framework. The key laws, regulations and guidelines you should be aware of are:

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 

The Control of Asbestos Regulations sets out the legal framework for managing asbestos in the workplace. It states that specific measures must take place to ensure asbestos safety in any building that was constructed before 2000. The regulations specify that:

  • Employers and employees are responsible for complying with asbestos regulations.
  • A duty holder should be responsible for managing the risk of asbestos within non-domestic premises.
  • Duty holders should conduct asbestos surveys to identify the presence and condition of asbestos-containing materials. These surveys help in creating an asbestos register and management plan.
  • Risk assessments must be carried out and appropriate measures taken to manage and mitigate the risks.
  • Any workers involved in asbestos-related activities must receive adequate training and be competent in carrying out their tasks safely.
  • The relevant enforcing authority must be informed before certain types of asbestos-related activities are carried out.
  • Procedures should be in place to deal with accidental disturbances of asbestos.
  • Records must be maintained regarding the presence and conditions of asbestos, risk assessments and any actions that are taken.
  • Control measures must be taken, including using appropriate PPE and taking containment measures.
Health & safety at work

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is designed to protect the health, safety and welfare of people in the workplace and the general public. This Act plays a crucial role in establishing the general principles and duties that underpin the regulation of workplace health and safety, including those related to asbestos. For example:

  • Section 2: Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This duty extends to the control of substances hazardous to health, including asbestos.
  • Section 3: Employers must conduct risk assessments to identify and assess potential hazards in the workplace, including the presence of asbestos.
  • Section 8: Employees should be provided with appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure their health and safety, including asbestos awareness.
  • Section 3(1): Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of persons not in employment but who may be affected by work activities. This includes visitors, contractors and members of the public who may be exposed to asbestos-related risks.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act provides the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with the authority to enforce compliance with health and safety regulations, including those specific to asbestos. Non-compliance with the Act can lead to penalties, fines and even imprisonment.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

These regulations build on the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and require employers to assess and manage risks to health and safety in the workplace. They support the general duties outlined in the Act and are relevant to asbestos risk assessment and management.

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015

These regulations focus on the management of health and safety risks during the construction phase of projects. If asbestos is encountered or disturbed during construction work, these regulations specify that coordination is required between the different parties involved in the construction project to manage asbestos risks.

Asbestos surveys and assessments

Legal requirements specify the need for asbestos surveys and risk assessments in buildings and workplaces. These assessments are essential for identifying and managing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and provide essential information to enable effective risk mitigation strategies.

Before any work is carried out, an asbestos survey should be conducted. There are two different types of surveys, depending on the nature of the work to be carried out:

  1. Management surveys.
  2. Refurbishment/demolition surveys.

The person conducting the asbestos survey must be competent, meaning they should have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. This helps to ensure they are able to accurately identify and assess asbestos. The survey should identify the presence, location and condition of ACMs in the building or structure. It should also assess the risk posed by these materials and provide recommendations for their management. Following the survey, a comprehensive report should be prepared. This report should include the survey findings, details of any ACMs identified, their condition and any recommendations for managing or removing them.

Once a survey has been completed, the next step is to conduct a risk assessment. A risk assessment is conducted based on the findings of the asbestos survey. It aims to evaluate the level of risk associated with the asbestos materials. Risk assessments help to determine appropriate control measures and prioritise actions and control measures to reduce or remove the risk. The person carrying out the risk assessment must be competent to perform the risk assessment and must ensure the risk assessment is specific to the work to be carried out. 

An asbestos risk assessment will:

  • Identify any hazards and assess the risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Determine whether it is possible to do the work without the risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Identify who may be at risk and the level of possible exposure.
  • Specify the risk classification.
  • Evaluate the condition of the asbestos-containing materials and the type of asbestos.
  • Specify how the work will be carried out, the scale of work and the expected duration.
  • Specify the controls that will be used to reduce exposure.
  • Have a statement explaining why the work is non-licensed.
  • Include protective measures, such as PPE.
  • List the decontamination procedures.
  • Specify how asbestos waste will be managed and disposed of.
  • Explain the emergency procedures.
  • State the review and monitoring period.
Asbestos removal and handling

Asbestos removal and handling

There are specific legal procedures and safety measures for the removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials in the UK. These measures are designed to protect workers, the general public and the environment from the risks associated with asbestos exposure. 

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 outlines the legal requirements for asbestos removal and compliance with these regulations is essential. Additionally, there are specific qualifications and certifications that asbestos removal professionals must possess. If you are moving certain types of asbestos, known as licensable work, this requires a licence issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Licensable work includes higher-risk activities such as the removal of sprayed coatings, insulation and asbestos insulating boards.

Duty holders must also notify the relevant enforcing authority (usually the HSE) before commencing any licensable asbestos removal work. This notification includes details about the location, nature and timing of the work. Before starting any removal work, a risk assessment must be conducted to identify any potential hazards and establish control measures. These control measures, such as using enclosures, air filtration systems and protective clothing, must be strictly implemented and followed by every worker. 

For decontamination, adequate decontamination facilities must be provided for workers involved in asbestos removal. Decontamination units include areas for undressing, showering and changing into clean clothing to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres. Additionally, continuous air monitoring is often required during asbestos removal to ensure that the concentration of airborne asbestos fibres remains within permissible levels. This helps verify the effectiveness of control measures.

As well as the licence issued by the HSE, individuals involved in asbestos removal work must receive appropriate training and hold training certificates recognised by the HSE. Training should cover both theoretical knowledge and practical skills relevant to asbestos removal. Asbestos removal professionals are required to undergo regular refresher training to stay updated on best practices, changes in regulations and advancements in asbestos removal techniques. Additionally, workers using respiratory protective equipment (RPE) must undergo fit testing to ensure that the equipment provides effective protection. Fit testing should be conducted regularly.

Worker protection

For any high-risk work involving asbestos, an individual must be licensed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to work with asbestos. This includes carrying out any work on:

  • Asbestos loose fill insulation.
  • Pre-formed insulation.
  • Asbestos sprayed coating.
  • The repair or removal of asbestos insulation (e.g. thermal insulation on pipes).
  • Work on asbestos insulating boards (e.g. removing partition walls).
  • Large amounts of debris or material that contains asbestos (e.g. following a flood or fire in an older property).

If you are unsure whether you are working with asbestos-containing materials, the first step is to check whether the building you are working in was built or refurbished before the year 2000. Your employer (or you if you are self-employed) should then get a copy of the building’s asbestos register so you are aware of any possible risks. If asbestos is present in the building, you will then need to consider whether the type of work you are doing has the potential to disturb or damage the asbestos. If there is a risk, you may be required to use the services of a licensed asbestos contractor. They may safely remove the asbestos or protect it from the work you are doing. 

Workers have a higher likelihood of being at risk of asbestos exposure if:

  • The area or building they are working in was built or refurbished before the year 2000.
  • The area or building they are working in has not previously been inspected for asbestos.
  • Information about asbestos-containing materials is not properly communicated.
  • They have not undergone appropriate asbestos training.
  • An asbestos risk assessment is not completed and safe practices have not been followed.

If you are carrying out any non-licensed work on asbestos, there are specific steps you should follow to reduce the likelihood of asbestos exposure:

  • Undergo appropriate asbestos training.
  • Ensure you understand where asbestos-containing materials are most likely to be found.
  • Ensure you are aware of what to do if you find or accidentally damage or disturb asbestos.
  • Carry out an asbestos risk assessment.
  • Carefully plan any work you are going to carry out.
  • Follow any control measures carefully.
  • Wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect you from inhaling asbestos fibres.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including disposable coveralls to protect your clothing, shoe coverings and gloves.
  • Use dust control measures if you are using power tools.
  • Use a Type H vacuum cleaner and/or wet rags for cleaning dust and debris. Do not sweep.
  • Dispose of any disposable clothing or footwear and any RPE.
  • Do not eat or drink in the working area.
Waste management and disposal of asbestos

Waste management and disposal

The safe disposal of asbestos waste is an essential aspect of asbestos management. Safe disposal helps to prevent environmental contamination and protect public health. In the UK, the disposal of asbestos waste is strictly regulated by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which provides specific guidelines on how asbestos waste should be handled and disposed of.

Some legal regulations you must comply with when managing and disposing of asbestos waste include:

  • Apply for a waste carrier licence

Individuals or companies transporting asbestos waste must hold a valid Waste Carrier Licence issued by the relevant environmental agency. This licence ensures that the carrier is authorised to transport hazardous waste, including asbestos. If you require a licensed waste carrier to dispose of asbestos materials, you must ensure the carrier has the correct registration. The regulations change depending on where in the UK the disposal is taking place:

    • England: Environment Agency – Upper-tier waste carrier.
    • Wales: Natural Resources Wales – Upper-tier waste carrier.
    • Scotland: Scottish Environment Protection Agency – Carrier of controlled waste.
    • Northern Ireland: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – Upper-tier waste carrier.
  • Transport

Asbestos waste must be transported using a suitable and licensed vehicle that has the required permits and documentation for transporting asbestos waste. Asbestos waste must be properly packaged and labelled to minimise the risk of exposure during transportation and disposal. Packaging should be robust and clearly marked as containing asbestos to alert handlers to the potential hazards. The vehicle must be properly sealed or have a segregated compartment for asbestos. Asbestos waste must be accompanied by a consignment note, which is a type of legal document that provides information about the waste, its origin and the destination for disposal. This helps to track and regulate the movement of asbestos waste

  • Designated landfill sites

Asbestos waste must be disposed of in designated landfill sites that are authorised to accept hazardous waste. These sites have the necessary infrastructure and precautions to manage asbestos-containing materials safely.

  • Transfer stations

In some cases, asbestos waste may be taken to transfer stations before reaching the final disposal site. These stations act as intermediate points for sorting and consolidating waste before transportation to designated landfills.

Proper containment, waste management and disposal practices are necessary for many reasons. As well as ensuring you are complying with the laws and regulations, properly containing and disposing of asbestos can prevent asbestos fibres from being released into the air, water or soil and prevent environmental contamination. It can also protect the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees and members of the public and minimise the health risks.

Asbestos notification and records

Notifying the relevant authorities about asbestos removal projects is a legal requirement. The notification process is designed to ensure that regulatory bodies are informed about potentially high-risk activities involving asbestos removal. 

You must inform the relevant authorities in the event of licensable asbestos removal work, which involves higher-risk activities such as the removal of certain types of asbestos-containing materials. Duty holders, typically the person or organisation responsible for the premises, must submit a notification to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) using the HSE’s online asbestos notification system. This notification should include details such as the location of the work, the type and quantity of asbestos to be removed and the start and end dates of the removal project. 

The HSE must be notified at least 14 days before the intended start date of the asbestos removal work, using the ASB5 form. In certain emergency situations, where the risk of serious harm is imminent, duty holders are allowed to notify the HSE as soon as practicable before commencing work. If multiple projects are ongoing at a single site or multiple sites, separate notifications may be required for each project. This ensures that the HSE is aware of and can monitor each removal activity independently.

Maintaining comprehensive records related to asbestos management is a legal obligation for any business working with ACMs. These records are essential for tracking asbestos-containing materials, managing risks and demonstrating compliance. It is necessary to keep accurate and detailed records of the following:

  • The asbestos register for the premises (detailing the location, condition and type of asbestos present).
  • Records of any asbestos surveys, including the survey reports.
  • Records of any risk assessments, including the control measures that have been implemented.
  • Training records.
  • Records of notifications submitted to the HSE for licensable asbestos removal work.
  • Health records of any exposure to asbestos, including the date, time and length of exposure and the type of asbestos.

All records should be regularly maintained and updated. There are different requirements regarding how long records should be kept. For example, health records must be stored for 40 years after the date of the last entry, whereas risk assessments only need to be stored for five years.

Legal consequences of non-compliance

Non-compliance with legal regulations can have serious consequences. Because asbestos represents a serious risk to health, the laws and regulations are strict, with clear laws, standards and responsibilities that must be complied with. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in:

  • A fine.
  • A prohibition notice, for example prohibiting certain activities until compliance is achieved.
  • An improvement notice, requiring the recipient to take specific actions within a specified timeframe.
  • Criminal prosecution against individuals or a company.
  • Criminal charges, for example for gross negligence or wilful disregard for health and safety regulations.
  • A prison sentence.
  • Civil liability, for example legal claims for damage from employees or members of the public who may have been harmed due to asbestos exposure.
  • Director disqualification, for example being banned from being in a managerial or directorial role for a specified time.
Challenges and best practices

Challenges and best practices

There are multiple different challenges you can face when attempting to comply with asbestos regulations. Each potential challenge has a best practice that can be followed to ensure compliance with asbestos regulations.

Potential Challenge Best Practice
Identifying asbestos, particularly in older buildings where records are incomplete, unreliable or non-existent. Conduct a thorough asbestos survey using qualified professionals to effectively assess whether asbestos is present. Regularly update the asbestos register as new information becomes available.
Assessing and managing all risks related to asbestos to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Detailed risk assessments should be conducted based on the findings of the asbestos survey. Control measures should be prioritised based on the level of risk. Ensure that all employees are aware of the condition and location of asbestos and the potential exposure pathways.
The construction industry often has self-employed individuals, individuals from different companies and ever-changing personnel, making training difficult. Anybody working in a building with an asbestos risk should have adequate asbestos awareness training with specialised training for those working directly with asbestos. Checking training certificates and emphasising the importance of training is recommended.
Removing asbestos can be a complex and hazardous process. Because asbestos removal requires specialised knowledge and equipment, hiring a licensed asbestos removal contractor who has the relevant training can not only protect employees but also ensure legal compliance. You should also follow proper notification procedures, conduct thorough risk assessments and implement effective containment measures during removal projects.
Unexpectedly encountering asbestos. Ensure that emergency procedures are in place in the event that asbestos is accidentally uncovered or disturbed. All employees should be aware of the emergency procedure. You should also implement appropriate safety measures before working in any building with a risk of asbestos, for example wearing respiratory equipment, using a damp rag for cleaning and following decontamination procedures.

Future trends and developments

While the UK has come a long way in reducing the risk of asbestos and implementing regulations and best practices, there are ongoing efforts to improve safety in the future. Future trends and developments in asbestos management and regulations may include:

  • Advanced detection technology
    Continued advancements in detection technology will hopefully lead to more accurate and efficient methods for identifying asbestos-containing materials. Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, could play a role in automating the analysis of survey data.
  • Innovative removal techniques
    Research and development in asbestos removal techniques may result in more innovative and less intrusive methods. This could include the use of robotics or remotely operated equipment to minimise direct human exposure during the removal processes.
  • Environmentally friendly remediation practices
    There is an increased focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly remediation practices. Future trends may involve the development of green technologies and methods for handling and disposing of asbestos waste to minimise the impact on the environment.
  • Real-time monitoring systems
    Real-time monitoring systems would provide immediate feedback on air quality and exposure levels, allowing for prompt adjustments to control measures and reducing exposure levels.
  • International standards for asbestos management
    Asbestos is a global concern and future trends may involve increased international collaboration to establish consistent standards for asbestos management. Shared best practices and standardised regulations could enhance global efforts to address asbestos-related risks.
  • Increased public awareness
    Although awareness of asbestos is high in the construction industry, many members of the general public are unaware of the risks and may perform construction work without mitigating the potential risks. Ongoing efforts to raise public awareness about the dangers of asbestos can help to prevent accidental asbestos exposure.
  • Long-term health monitoring
    Improved methods for long-term monitoring and health surveillance of individuals with past asbestos exposure may be developed. This could include advancements in medical imaging, biomarker identification and predictive modelling for asbestos-related diseases.
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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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