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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that there are still some four million properties around the UK, which are likely to contain hidden asbestos materials, and often encountered in a friable ( fragile and disintegrating) condition. Any attempt to remove can result in fibres becoming airborne and inhaled by anyone in close proximity, from home owner or tenant, company employee to public visitors, as well as building and demolition workers.
It is frequently reported that still far too many firms seem to possess little or no asbestos awareness or training to correctly deal with the potential health risks. To minimise time and costs, the health and safety procedures are often simply ignored when existing building materials found to contain asbestos (ACMs) are dismantled and disposed of alongside standard building waste.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which came into force on the 6th April, updates previous asbestos regulations by implementing EU Directive 2009/148/EC, and targets changes at around three quarters of a million workers in companies involved with non-licensable asbestos work. From now on, the “Non-Licensable” category of asbestos work will be divided into two with an additional category, to be known as “Notifiable Non-Licensable Work” (NNLW).
According to the HSE, ” All non-licensed work is required to be carried out with the appropriate controls in place. Employers will also have an obligation for notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW)”, which means they must:
- Notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority.
- Ensure medical examinations are carried out.
- Maintain registers of work (health records).
The process involves specifying whether a type of asbestos work is either licensable, NNLW or non-licensed work in each case. To do this, a risk assessment must be carried out first to identify the type of asbestos-containing material (ACM) and an evaluation of its condition.
If the work is exempt from the need for a licence, it must be then determined if it is notifiable non-licensed work or just non-licensed work. The HSE advise that the key factors to consider are based on the type of work planned, whether maintenance, removal, encapsulation, or air monitoring and the collection and analysis of asbestos samples.
Identifying asbestos type is crucial. Although the most toxic forms were banned from use in 1985, white chrysotile asbestos fibres continued to be incorporated into a variety of building materials, including insulation wallboard (AIB), cement roofing, surface coatings and sprayed insulation, tiles and soffits, infill and adhesive tapes, etc. An import ban on chrysotile in 1999 was followed by a full ban in 2005. However, it must be assumed that any property built or renovated at any time until the end of the twentieth century has to be suspected of containing asbestos material.
Asbestos found in a fragile, friable condition is particularly prone to release fibres and is liable to be designated NNLW while work which disturbs the least friable materials e.g. asbestos cement can normally be treated as non-licensed work. Encapsulated asbestos, such as cement, paint or plastic, which are considered to be firmly bonded in a matrix, are more likely to be found in good condition and can usually be treated as non-licensed work.
The ever present risk is the disturbance and breathing in of asbestos fibres. Once ingested they embed in the lung linings and can eventually cause asbestosis disease or form the deadly incurable tumours of mesothelioma cancer.
A long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years is known to elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms appear, by which time, the disease may have spread to adjacent tissues or organs. A patient’s survival rate after a conformed diagnosis can be less than 6 months.
Under the requirements of the NNLW, the HSE requires ” brief written records should be kept of non-licensed work, which has to be notified, e.g. copy of the notification with a list of workers present on-site, plus the level of likely exposure of those workers to asbestos”.
By April 2015, each and every worker who is exposed to asbestos must be under medical “surveillance” every three years. The employer must maintain a register for each worker, which records the type and duration of work carried out with asbestos and is to be retained for at least 40 years along with copies of all medical reports.
The HSE state that ” Workers who are already under health surveillance for licensed work need not have another medical examination for non-licensed work but medicals for notifiable non-licensed work are not acceptable for those doing licensed work”.
With more than 1.8 million people annually exposed each year to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed annually, the new Regulations are an attempt to reduce disregard for health and safety on property renovations when there is still a potential hazard from exposure to asbestos.