Are you prepared for the new asbestos regulations? Pauline Pembry urges businesses to plan their compliance strategy immediately if they haven't already done so
14 May 2004
With 3,500 people in the UK dying each year from mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, and the death toll predicted to grow still further, the government is introducing tighter controls on asbestos in the workplace. Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 will require those organisations with a legal responsibility for property maintenance to manage the risk of asbestos in their buildings. These processes must all be in place by 21 May.
The onus is therefore on businesses, councils or anyone else responsible for any type of building that may contain asbestos to create an effective asbestos management system. Facilities managers should act now by planning compliance strategies. If they don't, they risk damaging the health of their employees, tenants or anyone else who uses their buildings, and will be liable to legal action costing thousands of pounds.
Many are aware that asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. Although some of it has been removed over the years, there are many thousands of tonnes of asbestos still present in buildings.
It is estimated that more than 500,000 non-domestic premises currently contain some form of asbestos. If it is disturbed or damaged, asbestos is a clear health risk, and it is vital that facilities managers act now to ensure they are ready for the new legislation.
FMs first need to assess whether there is any asbestos in the premises and, depending on its condition, either remove it or manage it. At the same time, they must ensure that subsequent maintenance activities do not expose the workers to any avoidable risks.
As well as physically managing the asbestos, facilities managers must also ensure that information on its location and condition is given to anyone who is likely to disturb it. This includes informing people such as council house tenants, who may be thinking of starting DIY work.
The regulations are in force for all types of asbestos. Chrysotile (white asbestos) has been used most widely, but amphibole (blue and brown asbestos) is generally recognised to be more dangerous. The Health and Safety Executive has produced a scientific paper that estimated the risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer by asbestos fibre type for a range of different exposure scenarios.
The study suggests that, on average, blue asbestos poses a risk about 500 times that of white asbestos for mesothelioma and 10 to 50 times higher for lung cancer. The equivalent risk ratio for brown asbestos is 100 for mesothelioma and 10 to 50 for lung cancer. No type of asbestos exposure is therefore free of risk, particularly as the asbestos types were often mixed to enhance the properties for the materials produced.
It is essential for all organisations to be aware of the new regulations and to proactively review and strengthen their arrangements for managing asbestos. In doing so they will be saving lives - it is as simple as that.
The regulations have an 18-month lead-in period and the deadline for compliance with the duty is 21 May 2004. Failure to meet compliance will be a criminal offence subject to the usual sanction for Health and Safety offences.
A copy of the regulations can be downloaded from www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2002/20022675.htm
Pauline Pembry is employment services manager at FirstAssist
Act now to save lives
The responsibility to manage asbestos will require facilities managers to take precautions:
Take reasonable steps to determine the location and condition of materials likely to contain asbestos
Presume material contains asbestos unless there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise
Make and keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing material or presume asbestos-containing material is in the premises
Assess the risk of the likelihood of anyone being exposed to fibres from these materials
Prepare a plan setting out how the risks from the materials are to be managed
Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
Review and monitor the plan periodically
Provide information on the location and the condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them