Recent HSE changes to the regulations on asbestos affecting FMs as duty holders underline the need for constant vigilance. Paul Reeve reports on the revised code
12 February 2014
Exposure to asbestos in previous decades has been an occupational health disaster.
Thousands of contractors die each year from having been exposed to asbestos. According to the Health & Safety Executive, it remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths.
Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the 1980s, in particular for fire-proofing and insulation.
In good condition, the material is not a significant health risk, but when asbestos is damaged or disturbed the fibres can become airborne, get into the lungs and cause a variety of often fatal diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and diffuse plural thickening. Mesothelioma alone accounts for the deaths of more than 2,000 people every year.
Last autumn the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA) contributed to the HSE's consultation to make it easier for employers to understand their legal obligation to manage the risk from asbestos. This was in response to Professor Ragnar Löfstedt's independent review of health & safety legislation, Reclaiming health and safety for all, including Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs).
The new code
The result of the HSE's consultation was published just before Christmas. The HSE decided to combine two former asbestos ACoPs - L127 (management of asbestos in non-domestic premises) and L143 (work with materials containing asbestos) - into a single ACoP. The new L143 is in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), which came into force in April 2012.
CAR 2012 contains requirements to cover Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW) and record keeping. By April 2015, any trades people doing NNLW with asbestos must also undergo regular health checks by a doctor.
Asbestos duty holders
The HSE says its new wording in support of regulation 4 of CAR 2012 clarifies who "duty holders" are for commercial and other non-domestic premises, and what they must do to comply with the "duty to manage". Under regulation 4, the duty holder must identify and manage the risk from the presence of asbestos on the premises. The duty holder is usually the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of premises. In larger businesses that will almost certainly be the facilities manager.
The duty holder must ensure that a written plan shows where asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are located, and how any work will be managed to prevent exposure to asbestos, whether to employees, contractors or other workers who may carry out work that could disturb ACMs in the building. This plan must be communicated to those who may be affected, notably contractors, and carried out. The duty holder must also regularly review the plan and update it if circumstances change, in consultation with those affected.
The obligation to provide this information is solely the duty holder's, and contractors are being advised to expect a full briefing on the presence of asbestos before they start work on any premises.
Licences and notifications
Not all work involving asbestos requires a licence from the HSE. In the ACoP examples of work that do not need a licence are:
l Small, short duration maintenance tasks - where asbestos airborne control limits will not be exceeded;
- Removing textured decorative coatings by any suitable dust-reducing method;
- Cleaning up small quantities of loose or fine debris containing ACM dust - where the work is "sporadic and of low intensity", the control limit will not be exceeded and is of short duration;
- Work on asbestos cement products or other materials containing asbestos, e.g. paints, bitumen, resins, rubber, where the fibres are bound in a matrix that prevents most of them being released. This includes aged/weathered asbestos cement; and
- Work associated with collecting and analysing samples to identify the presence of asbestos.
However, even it if does not require an HSE licence, all non-licensable work with asbestos must still be carried out in accordance with the rest of the 2012 Regulations. In addition, some types of non-licensable work still have to be notified to the HSE, including the following:
- Removal of asbestos cement products, e.g. roof sheeting that is substantially damaged or broken up following fire or flood;
- Removal of asbestos cement products, e.g. roof sheeting, where the material will be substantially broken up, creating significant quantities of dust and debris, such as dropping an asbestos cement roof;
- Large-scale removal of textured decorative coatings using steaming or gelling methods, e.g. beyond that required for maintenance such as installation or replacement of smoke alarms and light fittings;
- Short duration (under two hours) work to remove asbestos insulation board as part of demolition or major refurbishment; and
- Short duration (under two hours) work on asbestos insulation.
There are also significant changes to regulation 10 of CAR 2012 on the provision of suitable asbestos training for operatives, including the need for refresher training. Ambiguity about the need for refresher training required the HSE to issue a myth-buster statement to help rein in excessive training in the industry, at the ECA's request.
With the arrival of the new ACoP, the legal duties on contractors and others, notably building duty holders, are much clearer. The updated L143 ACOP is free to download at