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New rules bring asbestos clarity

A law introduced last year is changing the way m&e contractors operate with asbestos. But a knowledge gap is growing between building professionals and the public on the subject. The Control of Asbestos Regulations came into force on November 13, 2006. It brought together three sets of regs and set a single control limit of 0.1 fibres per cu cm of air for work with all types of asbestos. It also specified mandatory training requirements for anyone liable to be exposed to asbestos and stated that anyone who certifies premises to be safe to be re-occupied following asbestos work must be accredited. Andrew Harper, managing director for Warners M&E said: “The recent change to the asbestos regulations has had an effect on how we approach the tendering process. Before the rule change, we would often have to make a judgement about which parts of the work we would take on ourselves and which parts we would sub-contract to a specialist. But now, it is clearer that asbestos management is a specialist subject and we must use a specialist,” he said. “Also it is much better to have one set of regs to deal with than three. Although it is life threatening, asbestos is not a sexy subject, so it helps that rules have been simplified.” Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA said that most of its members were well versed in dealing with asbestos, even before the recent changes in the law, but cautioned that non-professional opinion on asbestos was often irrational. “A few things have been dripping through in the past few years, such as owners creating asbestos registers for buildings, so most of the membership is up to speed,” he said. “However, the problem is the perception of the public which suggests asbestos is like nuclear waste and must be completely removed. If we did this, we would have an asbestos mountain. We need a rational approach where asbestos is phased out.” The Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, for example, has been vociferous in its desire to see asbestos completely removed from schools. England's largest teaching union has also stepped up attempts to remove asbestos from schools because of fears of mesothelioma, which has been linked to the deaths of 73 schoolteachers between 1991 and 2000. Health and Safety Executive guidance sates that asbestos in sealed conditions poses no health risk. Mr Towse continued: “Many schools will have asbestos, but it is only a danger if it is disturbed. The Building Schools for the Future scheme, for example, will disturb much of this, but you would expect local authorities to be on top of where asbestos is, its condition, and be able to deal with it during refurbishment. It is only occasionally that things go wrong when dealing with asbestos in schools.” One example of this is when Southfield School For Girls in Kettering closed for seven months in 2003 because asbestos was disturbed during a refurbishment. Briggs & Forrester Electrical was fined £60,000, and B&W Asbestos Removal Specialists was fined £30,000 last month as a result. The court heard B&W failed to make sure the area was sealed off correctly and tiles were broken and dust spread into corridors and classrooms.