Safety alert: Asbestos in the workplace

With approximately 5,000 work-related deaths per year due to previous exposure to asbestos, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) want to alert businesses of the dangers of asbestos and what can be done to minimise the risk.

Asbestos is a material used in thousands of building products from the 1950s until 1985, before being fully banned in 1999. It can still be found in a large number of buildings built or refurbished before the year 2000.

While asbestos that has been disturbed or damaged can pose a serious risk to health, asbestos that is left alone and is in good condition isn’t dangerous.

Who’s affected?

Anyone who works in a building built or refurbished before the year 2000, or those whose work may lead to exposure to asbestos. This could include:

  • Tradespeople (e.g. plumbers, plasterers, electricians or engineers).
  • Staff who work in the building, or visitors to the building.
  • Family members of people who have been in contact with asbestos (who can be affected by dust brought home on clothes).

What do you need to do?

There are responsibilities on both the dutyholder of the building and anyone who may come into contact with asbestos as part of their work (e.g. tradespeople).

Dutyholder responsibilities:

  • Find out if asbestos is present – for buildings built or refurbished before the year 2000, asbestos must be assumed present unless you have strong evidence that it’s not.
  • Assess the condition of the asbestos, including its location, type and the amount that is present. This is usually known as an asbestos survey and should be carried out by a suitably trained competent person.
  • Carry out a risk assessment to determine the potential risk of exposure.
  • Record the findings from the asbestos survey and risk assessment. This is known as the asbestos register. Any areas that have not been inspected for asbestos must be included and assumed to contain asbestos.
  • Create a management plan to determine any actions that may need to be taken. Where asbestos may be/is damaged or disturbed, the plan should detail how the asbestos will be managed (for instance periodic visual checks), sealed off or removed so the area is made safe. Stick to this plan and keep records of any inspections/work completed.
  • Periodically review and update the management plan to make sure it’s kept relevant. This should be done annually as a minimum.
  • Communicate the survey and management plan to anyone who may be affected by the presence of asbestos, including any tradespeople or contractors.

Responsibilities of those who may encounter asbestos as part of their work (e.g. tradespeople):

  • Ensure basic asbestos awareness training has been carried out at a minimum. Where you carry out licenced work, additional training will be required.
  • Be aware of where asbestos may be found – hidden asbestos could still be found even if a survey has been carried out, so make sure your workforce are aware to stop working and report any material they suspect may be asbestos to their supervisor.
  • Ensure you have received a copy of the asbestos register before work starts.
  • Ensure you have carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment before work starts.
  • Where possible, plan for the works to be carried out to avoid disturbing any asbestos.
  • Don’t carry out any works you’re not suitably trained/authorised to carry out (e.g. don’t carry out licenced work if you’re not authorised to do so by the HSE).
  • Ensure you have the relevant insurance to carry out works on asbestos.
  • Where you’re carrying out work that will disturb asbestos, ensure adequate protective measures are put in place to ensure the safety of yourself and others around you.
  • Where asbestos is being removed, ensure the adequate disposal of it.
  • If you’re not trained and/or prepared to work on asbestos but come across it, stop work immediately.

Please see the original HSE Asbestos & You campaign here

Got any questions?

If you would like more information or support, please call our 24/7 advice line and speak to one of our experts on 0345 844 4848.

Pop in your details and we'll call you straight back

We'll get back to you as soon as we can.