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Asbestos: Legal duties to manage the risks

14 January 2020

Asbestos is a hidden killer. Sarah Haslam, marketing & PR manager at Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA), discusses the responsibilities of FM managers, in-house cleaning teams and outsourced service providers.

Today asbestos containing materials can still be found in a huge number of buildings, including shops, hospitals, schools, factories and domestic properties, throughout the UK, even though the use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999.

Asbestos is known as a hidden killer. It can be found in numerous materials which can be found in numerous places within a building, such as pipe lagging, insulation board, vinyl floor tiles and cement products. Being aware of where asbestos can be found, and how to manage the risks, is vital to reducing the health risks faced by workers, whether in-house maintenance teams or contractors, and the public. 
The owner or manager of premises, constructed prior to the year 2000, may be the duty holder. If so, they must understand their legal duties in managing the risks from asbestos, as they have the responsibility for ensuring that employees and non-employees are not exposed to health risks as a result of the presence of asbestos. 

Health and safety
With regard to peoples’ health and safety at work the overarching legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974. It places a duty on every employer to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work for all employees and non-employees who may be affected by the employer’s activities.

Asbestos awareness
Managing and working with asbestos is covered by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012).  Within this, regulation 10 states that employers need to make sure that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their work, or who supervises such employees, receives the correct level of information, instruction and training to enable them to carry out their work safely and competently, and without risk to themselves or others.

Asbestos awareness training should be given to those employees whose work could foreseeably disturb the fabric of the building and expose them to asbestos.

Where is asbestos
Regulation 5 states that employers must not undertake work which exposes or is liable to expose employees to asbestos in any premises unless a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos is present and in what condition, eg: asbestos survey.

Manage the risks
Regulation 4 of the CAR 2012, covers non-domestic premises (e.g. shops, factories, hospitals and schools) and the common parts of domestic premises, such as, corridors, garages and boiler rooms, and guest accommodations, such as hotels and halls of residence. 

The duty holder needs to create, an asbestos register, this is a record of the location of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and the condition, including a drawing of the premises. It should be dated, as periodic reviews should be carried out, so an up-to-date record is available on the location and condition of all ACMs.

Communication of this information is vital, as all staff and workers, whether the maintenance team or a building contractor, need to know where ACMs are located. 

The duty holder should ensure that the asbestos register is shared with workers who are going to carry out work on/in the premises, and work should only start once the duty holder is satisfied that the information in the asbestos register is known and understood by the workers. Also, the asbestos register should be easily accessible for anyone who needs to use it.

Workers should receive good communication from employers/duty holders of premises as to where ACM is in a building, and those who could foreseeably disturb the fabric of the building should undertake asbestos awareness training. When armed with all this information they should know not to disturb or remove asbestos containing material, e.g. not drill into asbestos insulation board, and also report any change to the condition of ACMs.

The risks from asbestos must be taken seriously, as still today it is the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with currently approximately 5000 asbestos related cancer deaths per year. 

For support the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) has produced guidance documents which are available to download in the clients section at www.arca.org.uk