Asbestos is a highly dangerous substance that was once widely used in many UK industries.
The use of asbestos has had a tragic effect - according to asbestos statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there are around 5,000 asbestos-related deaths every year in the UK.
The risks of asbestos are so severe that the substance is now highly regulated in the UK.
In this guide we will answer frequently asked questions about the UK's asbestos laws and regulations.
When was asbestos banned in the UK?
Asbestos was fully banned in the UK in November 1999. The ban made it illegal to buy, sell, import or export any asbestos containing materials.
There are several different types of asbestos, all of which can be deadly. The import and use of blue (Crocidolite) and brown (Amosite) asbestos was banned in the UK in 1985. White asbestos (Chrysotile), which was still being actively used after 1985, was included in the 1999 ban.
Despite being banned in the UK, asbestos is still widely used and legal in many countries around the world, particularly in developing countries.
Which regulations outline how to deal with asbestos in the UK?
Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in a variety of construction materials.
Although it was eventually banned in 1999, many buildings - both residential and commercial -
still contain a great deal of asbestos materials.
When asbestos is disturbed, the fibres can become airborne, meaning that people can inhale asbestos into their lungs. This can lead to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma developing later in life.
There are strict regulations in the UK that govern how to work with asbestos containing materials. These asbestos regulations are called the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 provide the most up-to-date regulations on working with asbestos. They are generally accepted to apply to properties built before 2000, as these properties may still have asbestos containing materials.
Who do the Control of Asbestos Regulations apply to?
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply to employers, employees and those who manage the maintenance of non-domestic premises.
There is a duty to protect yourself and others from exposure to asbestos while at work, even in domestic premises. This is covered under Regulations 5 and 6.
For non-domestic premises there is a duty to manage asbestos covered under the Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The purpose of this is to ensure that asbestos is maintained in a safe condition and that employees and workers are aware of its presence.
Duty to manage asbestos
The duty to manage asbestos requires the person in charge of maintenance for non-domestic premises (known as the duty holder) to:
- Take reasonable steps to find out if there are asbestos containing materials, and if so, its amount, location and what condition it is in
- Presume that all materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise
- Create and keep up-to-date an asbestos management plan
- Regularly review and monitor the asbestos plan
- Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is likely to work on or disturb them.
Legal risks and penalties
A duty holder that does not have an asbestos management plan in place could be fined up to £20,000 or imprisoned up to six months.
A serious breach of the regulations could result in an unlimited fine and/or a two-year prison sentence.
Who is responsible for preventing your exposure to asbestos?
The legal responsibilities primarily lie with employers and duty holders, but employees must also take responsibility to ensure their actions do not expose themselves and others to asbestos.
Before carrying out any construction or maintenance work in premises that may contain asbestos (or on a plant or equipment that may contain the substance), the duty holder must:
- Identify where asbestos containing materials may be located
- Identify the type and condition of the asbestos containing materials
- Assess the risks
- Control and manage the risks.
If an employer or duty holder puts procedures in place to prevent asbestos exposure, the employee must take responsibility for following these procedures.
When should an asbestos risk assessment be reviewed and updated?
An asbestos risk assessment should be reviewed and updated every 6-12 months.
What is the control limit for asbestos exposure?
The control of asbestos at work regulations requires control limits for asbestos to be set at 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3) averaged over a four hour period.
Do I need training to work with asbestos?
Training is mandatory for anyone at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibres at work.
If you are employed in an industry where you are at risk (such as construction and maintenance work involving premises built before the year 2000) then your employer must provide training for you.
Do I need a licence to work with asbestos?
The HSE states that work involving asbestos needs to be done by a licensed contractor in any of the following cases:
- Worker exposure to asbestos is not sporadic and of low intensity
- The risk assessment cannot clearly demonstrate that the control limit will not be exceeded
- Work will be carried out on asbestos coating
- Work will be carried out on asbestos insulation or asbestos insulating board where the risk assessment demonstrates that the work is not of short duration (short duration work is classified as when work with these materials will take no more than two hours in any seven-day period, and no one person works for more than one hour in that two hour period).
Effective controls must still be in place if you’re carrying out non-licensed asbestos work.
For more information about the UK’s asbestos regulations, visit the HSE website.
If you believe that you have become ill due to your employer failing in their duty of care to follow these regulations, you should talk to one of our specialist asbestos lawyers right away.
What is COSHH?
COSHH stands for 'Control of Substances Hazardous to Health'. COSHH is a set of regulations put in place to protect workers from ill health when working with specific substances and materials, deemed potentially harmful.
A breach of COSHH regulations by an employer or employee is unlawful, punishable by an unlimited fine. The regulations have been in place for over 25 years, but the most recent iteration (2002) was re-enacted with amendments of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Work Regulations 1999.
Is asbestos covered by COSHH regulations?
COSHH does not cover the control of asbestos, lead and radioactive agents because these substances/materials have their own specific regulations.
In circumstances where asbestos regulations have not been followed by an employer or duty holder, and workers have been exposed to asbestos fibres or dust as a result, it may be possible to make a claim for any asbestos-related illnesses that later develop.
We have helped thousands of people secure compensation for mesothelioma, asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer and pleural thickening. We can also help people secure compensation if their family member has sadly died from asbestos exposure.