Great British Asbestos Survey - June 2012

Great British Asbestos Survey - June 2012

The results of last year's Great British Asbestos Survey make for disappointing, if somewhat unsurprising reading.

The major survey carried out by the Asbestos Industry Group uncovered the following facts: 

  -  35% of contractors believe they have disturbed asbestos at some point

  -  32% of duty holders were unaware of their ‘duty to manage’ asbestos

  -  37% of duty holders have no asbestos management plan

  -  25% of asbestos surveys are not completed in line with guidance

  – 17% of contractors fail to ask clients about asbestos

  -  60% of residential contractors and 40% commercial contractors do not receive asbestos information from clients

  -  25% of respondents had received no asbestos awareness training.

What makes it particularly disappointing, is that this year has seen the introduction of new regulations designed to help manage the risks from this material. 

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on April 6.  The new regulations comply with a European Commission ruling that the UK hadn’t fully implemented a directive concerning the protection of workers from asbestos.

In the EC’s view, the omission of two terms in the existing regulations has the effect of allowing too many types of “low risk” work to be exempt from requirements concerning notification, medical examinations and record keeping.

The effect of complying with the EC’s view will be to create a new category of work – ‘Notifiable Non-licensed Work’.

This requires certain types of work on asbestos containing materials to be notified to HSE before it begins, that medical examinations of those undertaking the work are carried out every three years, and that records of work exposures are kept by the employer.  There are effectively three categories of work with asbestos:

a) Licensed – to which all requirements apply, and for which there is no change;

b) Non-licensed – which is exempt from the requirements to:

     -notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority;

     -carry out medical examinations;

     -maintain registers of work (health records);

     -hold a licence;

     -have arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies; and

     -designate asbestos areas;

c) A new category of ‘Notifiable Non-Licensed Work’ (NNLW), which is exempt from the requirements to:

     -hold a licence;

     -have arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies; and

     -designate asbestos areas.

However, employers in this new category are required to:

    -notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority;

     -carry out medical examinations (by April 2015); and

     -maintain registers of work (health records).

In addition to new regulations, a High Court ruling made earlier this year concerning compensation for those made ill by asbestos exposure, provides a further reason (if one were needed) for employers and duty holders to get up to speed. 

John Evans of Santia Asbestos Management commented on this ruling saying:

“While nothing can be done to remedy past exposures, this ruling links liability to the dates of exposure and not the date on which the onset of disease was confirmed. For the future, this judgement serves as a salutary warning to all employers to ensure that they have sound procedures in place to ensure that their employees and all others who undertake work in or otherwise use their premises are not exposed to airborne asbestos which may in future years give rise to the onset of an asbestos related illness.  While the priority of a robust asbestos management programme is to protect the health and wellbeing of employees and others, businesses also need to consider the potential financial implications which can result when asbestos related claims are made against companies.

He went on to comment on the lack of awareness of requirements amongst duty holders despite the best efforts of regulators and industry bodies to publicise this:

“It has been eight years since the duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises has been a legal requirement. Despite a significant amount of activity many organisations in both the public and private sectors still have a great deal of work to do to ensure that their asbestos management systems are effective in preventing exposures to asbestos in compliance with the requirements of the Regulations.”

Diseases associated with asbestos may take years, often decades, to emerge, and this has a significant implication for the way in which future claims may be settled.

John Evans of Santia Asbestos Management said of this:

“As a result of this case, it is likely that a claimant’s entire employment history will be taken into account and liability will fall with all of that person’s previous employers who may have exposed them to asbestos. Employers need to acknowledge the warning which this judgement provides by undertaking a comprehensive review of their asbestos management procedures to ensure that future illnesses will not result from today’s exposures.”

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