A report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health calls for urgent action to address the legacy of asbestos that remains in Britain’s workplaces and public buildings.
5,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of asbestos exposure. This is around three times the number of road accident deaths.
Almost all of the people who are dying now were exposed to asbestos decades ago and asbestos is now often wrongly seen as being a problem of the past as its importation and use has been banned since 1999.
However asbestos is still with us and it is still as dangerous as ever. Asbestos Containing Materials can be found in around half a million non-domestic premises (and probably around a million domestic ones).
This means that people are still being exposed to asbestos. It is often people who are working in maintenance, refurbishment or demolition, but people can, and do, become exposed simply by working in a building with asbestos, as fibres can become dislodged and breathed in.
Simple regulations for managing asbestos in the workplace, however good, will never protect workers from risk. So long as asbestos is found in any place where someone could be exposed there will be a danger. The only way we will eradicate mesothelioma in Britain is by removing asbestos. That will not be easy and there is a need for a realistic timetable, but work towards that should start now.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health believes that the time has come to put in place regulations requiring the safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place across Britain. Only that way can we ensure that future generations will not have to experience the same deadly epidemic from asbestos-related diseases that we suffer today.
If we are to protect future generations from the risk of exposure to this deadly fibre, the All-Party Parliamentary Group believes that we need a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos in every single workplace in Britain.
In a new report, published today, the group is calling for:
• All commercial, public, and rented domestic premises should have to conduct, and register with the HSE, a survey done by a registered consultant which indicates whether asbestos containing material is present, and, if so, where it is and in what condition, to be completed no later than 2022.
• Where asbestos is identified in any premises, all refurbishment, repair or remedial work done in the vicinity of the asbestos containing material should include the removal of the asbestos. Where no such work takes place, or is planned within the foreseeable future, the dutyholder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos which ensures that removal is completed as soon as is reasonably practical but certainly no later than 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, such as schools, this should be done by 2028.
• The HSE, local authorities and other enforcing agencies must develop a programme of workplace inspections to verify that all asbestos containing material identified is properly marked and managed, and that asbestos eradication plans are in place and include, as part of the plan, an acceptable timeframe for the eradication. Resources should be made available to the enforcing agencies to ensure that they can ensure that all workplaces and public places are complying with the regulation relating to management and removal, and that disposal is being done responsibly and safely.
• Before any house sale is completed, a survey should be done which includes a survey of the presence of asbestos. Any asbestos containing material should be labelled. Information on the presence of asbestos should be given to any contractor working on the house.
Ian Lavery, chair of the all-party group said “There is far too much complacency about the asbestos which we can still find in hundreds of thousands of workplaces as well as a majority of schools where children face exposure to this killer dust. We believe that the Government needs to start now on developing a programme to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from every workplace and public place so that we can end, once and for all this dreadful legacy which has killed so many people, and will continue to kill until asbestos is eradicated.”
The report can be found here asbestos_in_schools_booklet_low_res.pdf