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Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK between the 1950s and the mid-1980s, any type of building built before 2000 could contain asbestos.
There are up to six million tonnes of asbestos in schools, hospitals, ships, offices and factories - and the homes we live in. You can find asbestos in many places, for example:
- as a sprayed insulating coating on steelwork and concrete
- as lagging on pipes and boilers
- as insulation board in walls, on doors and ceilings
- as asbestos cement for roof and wall coverings, pipes and tanks
- in other products, e.g. floor tiles, sealants, textured decorative coatings (such as artex), rope seals, millboards, paper products, fire doors, cloth (e.g. fire blankets)
While asbestos in good condition is not harmful as such, it becomes highly dangerous once the material is damaged and a person breathes in the asbestos fibres. Inhaling the fibres can cause deadly diseases currently resulting in more than 5,000 deaths a year in the UK - 13 people for every day of the year.
The three main diseases caused by asbestos are lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lung), and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung). However, symptoms of these diseases often do not show up clinically for 15 - 50 years after first exposure to asbestos dust. Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to elevated concentrations on the job. Many people dying from asbestos-related diseases are building workers having worked mainly in repair and maintenance.
UCATT Policy and Information
UCATT policy is to STOP WORK if you believe at any point you are working on asbestos. Get it checked out.
UCATT recently produced an Asbestos Factsheet which warns of the dangers of asbestos, explains what a worker should do if they discover asbestos and explains the current legal situation.
UCATT Asbestos Exposure Register
If you have been exposed to asbestos, get this fact recorded by your doctor in your medical notes. If you are a UCATT member you should also have your exposure recorded in the UCATT Asbestos Register. The information provided by you can then be used by UCATT to make a claim on your behalf, if you develop an Asbestos related disease. Fill in all the details, sign it and return it by post to the address on the last page of the form.
Download: UCATT Asbestos Register form.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, updating the previous Control of Asbestos 2006 Regulations. The new Regulations take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).
With the implementation of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, some types of non-licensed work with asbestos now have additional requirements, i.e. notification of work, medical surveillance and record keeping. All other requirements (as contained in the previous Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006) remain unchanged.
Key requirements of the Regulations:
- In the majority of cases, work with asbestos needs to be done by a licensed contractor. This work includes most asbestos removal, all work with sprayed asbestos coatings and asbestos lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board (AIB).
- Everybody responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises has a 'duty to manage' the asbestos in them, to protect anyone using or working in the premises from the risks to health that exposure to asbestos causes.
- Everybody who wants to do any building or maintenance work in premises or on plant or equipment that might contain asbestos, needs to identify where it is and its type and condition; assess the risks, and manage and control these risks.
- Everybody carrying out non-licensed asbestos work this still requires effective controls.
- The control limit for asbestos is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). The control limit is not a 'safe' level and exposure from work activities involving asbestos must be reduced to as far below the control limit as possible.
- Training is mandatory for anyone liable to be exposed to asbestos fibres at work. This includes maintenance workers and others who may come into contact with or disturb asbestos, as well as those involved in asbestos removal work.
- It is prohibited to import, supply and use all forms of asbestos. This continues the ban introduced for blue and brown asbestos in 1985 and for white asbestos in 1999. Also the second-hand use of asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheets and asbestos boards and tiles remain banned.
- If existing asbestos containing materials are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged, they may be left in place; but their condition has to be monitored and managed to ensure they are not disturbed.
- What has changed in the Control of Asbestos 2012 Regulations?
- From 6 April 2012, also some non-licensed work needs to be notified to the relevant enforcing authority.
- From 6 April 2012, brief written records should be kept of non-licensed work, which has to be notified e.g. a copy of the notification with a list of workers on the job, plus the level of likely exposure of those workers to asbestos.
- By April 2015, all workers/self-employed doing notifiable non-licensed work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a doctor. 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.
For more detailed information about this new category of notifiable non-licensed work go to http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/licensing/non-licensed-work.htm or read the full UCATT brief on the new regulations.
HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/index.htm
Guide: Blacklisting and public procurement
Our new guide seeks to assist UCATT members in lobbying to stop public contracts going to firms that have blacklisted workers and have not made up for it. Download the Blacklisting & Public Procurement Guide now.
© 2017 UCATT. The trade union for workers in the construction industry. All rights reserved.