Asbestos exposure is the biggest cause of occupationally related deaths than any other single cause. The guidance and regulations around working in the vicinity of asbestos are therefore incredibly detailed, with serious legal consequences if anyone responsible is found to be ignoring them.
There is one key piece of UK legislation that contains all of the legal regulations for working and dealing with asbestos. In this article, we explain the key points of this piece of asbestos legislation, who it applies to and why it’s so important.
The current asbestos regulations are outlined in the Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012), which is a piece of statutory legislation in the UK that is sometimes also referred to as the CAR 2012 Regulations.
The most important regulation that this piece of legislation includes is that the asbestos control limit is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). This isn’t an accepted amount of asbestos to be present in a working environment however - every possible action needs to be taken to try and remove the risk of asbestos completely.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations identifies a ‘dutyholder’ as the person who is responsible for ensuring that the regulations are upheld. This dutyholder is any and every person that has an obligation to the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises as outlined by a contract or a tenancy.
For parts of non-domestic premises where there isn’t a designated contrast or tenancy holder, the dutyholder is any and every person that has control of that part of the premises or access to it.
To summarise, these regulations apply to you if:
The Control of Asbestos Regulations was brought in on 6th April 2012 after criticisms that previous asbestos regulations weren’t sufficiently following the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos. It sets out the legal duties for anyone working with asbestos, employing individuals that might be exposed to asbestos, or responsible for premises where asbestos is or might be present.
The main duties outlined in this legislation are laid out in Part Two, Regulation 4 of the CAR 2012 regulations. They are:
Ideally, the regulations state that asbestos exposure should be entirely prevented as far as possible, to remove the need for risk assessments and hazard control measures altogether. But when this isn’t possible, employers need to take every possible precaution to reduce exposure and limit the potential impact that asbestos might have on employees.
Under this piece of legislation, an employer must not let any of their employees work in an environment where they might be exposed to asbestos unless a full risk assessment has been carried out and recorded.
This risk assessment must include:
As well as a risk assessment, employers must also create a detailed plan of work outlining exactly how any necessary work will be carried out to avoid or minimise asbestos exposure.
This must include:
As part of risk management, employers need to ensure that employees are given medical surveillance after working with or around asbestos and that records of this are kept. This ensures that, if an employee does become unwell, action can be taken to identify the cause and better control or remove this hazard.
Due to the risks presented by working with asbestos, the Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012) requires a licence to be obtained before any work with or around asbestos takes place. This licence is granted by the HSE and needs to be applied for at least 28 days before the work takes place with the correct forms.
Licensable work with asbestos is defined as:
Some work with asbestos is considered non-licensed if it falls outside of these specifications. However, the latest asbestos legislation has stated that some non-licensed work still requires an enforcing authority to be notified, which is known as notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW).
Along with securing a licence and conducting the appropriate checks and assessments before work takes place, employers are also responsible for organising and providing appropriate training for employees that are going to be working with or around asbestos. This needs to be done regularly and adapted depending on the kind of work that will be taking place.
This training must promote an awareness of:
As well as protecting individual employees through risk assessments, training and the provision of protective clothing and equipment, the regulations describe how employers also need to keep the wider working environment free of asbestos exposure where possible. This involves:
The Control of Asbestos Regulations, which are used by HSE as the leading guide for those working with the material, is important because of the serious risk asbestos presents to people’s health. Asbestos fibres are incredibly small, but exposure to them has been found to lead to several very serious and often deadly diseases, including asbestosis or fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Not only is it very difficult to identify asbestos fibres, but the symptoms of the diseases it can cause don’t actually present symptoms until a couple of decades after the exposure. This means that you cannot usually tell whether you’re being exposed to asbestos, which is why preventative measures need to be taken and work needs to be carefully planned to remove or minimise the potential risk of exposure as much as possible.
Now that the dangers of asbestos have been discovered, it is used far less frequently as a building material than it used to be. However, it is still present in many older buildings and houses which means that people working in these environments are still at risk of exposure, so the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is still very relevant.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, the person with duties is either the owner of any non-domestic premises where asbestos is present or the company responsible for repairing and maintaining non-domestic premises. This duty might be split between leaseholders in a multi-occupied building if an arrangement is made.
It is the responsibility of whoever either owns or is responsible for maintaining a non-domestic building to protect inhabitants and those working in the environment from asbestos exposure. This responsibility includes testing building materials for asbestos, taking steps to make sure any asbestos is safely removed, and completing risk assessments to ensure that there isn’t a serious threat to health.
The risk management of asbestos falls to the duty holder, who is either the owner of any non-domestic premises or the organisation responsible for the repair and maintenance of non-domestic premises. This risk must be managed by conducting risk assessments to determine any present hazards, decide how to manage these risks and ensure that these measures are regularly checked and refined so that there’s no potential for exposure.
The risks presented by working with asbestos are very serious, which is why there is official legislation and guidance that employers and duty holders must follow where asbestos is concerned. The actions that need to be taken before any work that has even the chance of exposure happens are very thorough, but this is necessary for keeping employees safe.
If you would like to learn more about the risks of asbestos and the regulations that dictate how work should take place around the material, our ‘Asbestos Awareness’ online course contains essential information and guidance for employers and dutyholders.