Understanding Asbestos

The Invisible Risk in Our Buildings

Asbestos, once a miracle material used extensively across industries, remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in Great Britain.

Despite its ban in 1999, asbestos-related diseases claim approximately 5,000 lives annually, with conditions that develop over decades and, tragically, offer no cure.

Asbestos Awareness for Architects

The Lingering Legacy of Asbestos

Invisible to the naked eye, asbestos fibres can be inhaled or cling to clothing, posing a silent threat. Its widespread use in construction means that many pre-2000 buildings still harbour these hazardous materials. While safe removal practices are in place, the risk of exposure persists, particularly when asbestos is not managed effectively and becomes damaged or disturbed.

Asbestos Awareness

Who Should Be Concerned?

This guidance is crucial for:

  • Building owners and landlords
  • Maintenance and repair workers
  • Employers and self-employed individuals likely to disturb asbestos
  • Workers in older buildings
  • Asbestos surveyors, analysts, and licensed contractors

Compliance with the Law

To comply with legal requirements, one must:

  • Understand the role-specific actions required
  • Identify the presence and condition of asbestos
  • Assess risks and implement appropriate controls
  • Provide adequate training and information to those at risk of disturbing asbestos
  • Recognise when licensed contractors are necessary
Demolition

High-Risk Activities

Certain activities increase the likelihood of encountering asbestos, such as:

  • Drilling into walls
  • Refurbishment or retrofitting
  • Demolition
  • Installations (e.g., smart meters)
  • Tradespeople working on pre-2000 buildings should be particularly vigilant.

Managing Asbestos in Buildings

For workers in buildings with asbestos, the risk to health arises when fibres are released and inhaled. Dutyholders are responsible for ensuring safety, managing risks, and, if necessary, removing asbestos in poor condition.

Duty to Protect

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides comprehensive guidance for those with a duty to manage asbestos, covering:

  • Legal responsibilities
  • Identification of dutyholders
  • Required actions to ensure compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations

Latest Prosecution

In June 2024, two companies were fined after a teenage worker was exposed to asbestos. The incident highlights the importance of proper asbestos management and removal procedures.

The 16-year-old had been working for P Turnbull Joinery and Building Services Ltd on an outbuilding of a domestic property in Richmond, North Yorkshire after the firm had been hired by Alt Berg Holding Limited to refurbish it.

He had been breaking up cement sheets taken from the roof of the property and putting them into a skip. Asbestos was later found to be in the cement sheets, exposing the worker to asbestos fibres.

The Investigation

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Alt Berg Holdings Limited had failed to carry out an asbestos refurbishment and demolition survey of the property, which would have identified the asbestos.

“THE CONTRACTOR COULD HAVE ENSURED THAT SUITABLE CONTROLS WERE PUT IN PLACE AND THE ASBESTOS REMOVED SAFELY BEFORE FURTHER WORK WAS UNDERTAKEN”

P Turnbull Joinery and Building Services Ltd had not properly assessed the work and failed to prevent the worker being exposed to asbestos.

The Failings

A suitable and sufficient asbestos refurbishment and demolition survey of the building undertaken by the client and provided to the contractor before work started would have identified the presence of asbestos in the roofing materials. The contractor could have ensured that suitable controls were put in place and the asbestos removed safely before further work was undertaken.

‘This incident could so easily have been avoided by the provision of suitable and sufficient pre-construction information, effective communication between the parties and the use of correct control measures and safe working practices.

HSE principal inspector Chris Tilley

In Court

At Peterlee Magistrates’ Court, P Turnbull Joinery and Building Services pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The firm was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £500 in prosecution costs.

Alt Berg Holdings admitted breaching regulation 4(4) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations. The company was fined £6000 plus pay £1,950 in prosecution costs.

Understanding Asbestos – Key Takeaways

Asbestos remains a significant health hazard, especially in older buildings.

Understanding and adhering to guidelines can prevent exposure and save lives.

For detailed advice, visit the HSE website or GOV.UK for information on asbestos management and disposal.

By being aware of the risks associated with asbestos and taking steps to manage them effectively, we can reduce the risk of exposure and protect our health.