Managing the Risk – Asbestos: UK Still Lagging Behind Europe

16th December 2019

Between 1920 and 2000, Europe accounted for more than 50% of all asbestos traded worldwide.  According to the World Health Organisation, the UK has historically imported more asbestos per capita than any other country in the world and has the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe. To-date, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) predicts that the annual numbers will continue at current levels – over 2,500 deaths a year – for a decade, before starting to decline, although it has previously anticipated earlier falls.

Independent think-tank report

A recent report ‘Airtight on Asbestos’, by independent think-tank ResPublica, highlights that there are six million tonnes of Asbestos spread across 1.5 million public buildings, such as hospitals and schools throughout the UK. Under the current Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 (ACop – L143) it is the responsibility of the duty holder to ‘identify the location and condition of asbestos in non-domestic premises’ and to keep a record of this to ‘manage the risk and prevent harm’. Current guidance also states: ‘if asbestos containing materials are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged, they may be left in place, their condition monitored and managed to ensure they are not disturbed’.

The ResPublica report also highlights that the threat to public health is still present today, even though the United Kingdom banned the use of Asbestos on 24th November 1999 and changes to the law are overdue. The European Parliament is calling for the removal of asbestos from all European public buildings by 2028, although the UK has made no such commitment. The report calls for UK standards to be brought up to the highest international standards as practised in Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Key recommendations

Other key recommendations in the report include:

  • The establishment of a central register of all asbestos found in public buildings in the UK;
  • The commissioning of a cost-benefit analysis for the removal of all asbestos from public buildings in the UK;
  • The revision of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publication ‘Duty to Manage’;
  • The updating of the HSE guidance and risk assessment around asbestos;
  • That the HSE should accurately measure asbestos fatality figures and the actual harm caused by asbestos;
  • That the HSE should check that public buildings are safe from asbestos though the periodic use of sensitive air monitoring in line with the highest international standards;
  • That UK research bodies should consider gaps in the academic literature around the risks that asbestos-containing materials post, particularly in children as compared to adults.

With asbestos being commonly found within any building built prior to 2000, it is, therefore, the duty holder that is at the forefront of the management process and the ‘cornerstone of asbestos regulation’.

How can the S2 Partnership help?

The S2 Partnership’s dedicated team of asbestos consultants assist clients daily with asbestos management plans, processes, surveys and advice, to safeguard the health and safety of individuals. In addition, the RiskWise Asbestos Register provides the easiest solution for managing asbestos information online – providing full visibility of information to contractors and other stakeholders. For advice or assistance, contact our specialist team.