Despite a reputation as a problem of the past, thousands of tradespeople, including heating and ventilation contractors, still die every year as a result of previous exposure to asbestos. In fact, asbestos remains the single greatest cause of work-related deaths, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the 1980s, in particular for fireproofing and insulation. In good condition, the material is not a significant health risk – it’s only when asbestos is damaged or disturbed that the fibres become airborne, get into the lungs and cause a variety of often fatal diseases.
Last autumn, the Electrical Contractors’ Association contributed to an HSE consultation that aimed to make it easier for employers to understand their legal obligation to manage the risk from asbestos. The result of the consultation was published just before Christmas 2013, with two former Asbestos Approved Codes of Practice – L127 (The management of asbestos in non-domestic premises) and L143 (Work with materials containing asbestos) – combined into a single new ACoP.
The new L143 is in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which came into force in April 2012. CAR 2012 contained requirements to cover notifiable non-licenced work, and for record keeping. By April 2015, any tradespeople doing NNLW with asbestos must also undergo regular health checks by a doctor.
The new wording clarifies who “duty holders” are for commercial and other non-domestic premises – essentially the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of premises – and what they must do to comply with the “duty to manage”.
The duty holder must ensure that a written plan shows where asbestos-containing materials are located and how any work will be managed to prevent exposure to asbestos, whether to employees, contractors or other workers who may carry out work that could disturb ACMs in the building. This plan must be communicated to anyone who may be affected and then carried out. Plans must also be reviewed and updated regularly if circumstances change, in consultation with those who may be affected.
The following work involving asbestos does not need a licence:
- Small, short-duration maintenance tasks where asbestos airborne control limits will not be exceeded.
- Removing textured decorative coatings by any suitable dust-reducing method.
- Cleaning up small quantities of loose/fine debris containing ACM dust, where work is “sporadic and of low intensity”, the control limit will not be exceeded and it is “short duration” work.
- Work on asbestos cement products or other materials containing asbestos, for example paints, bitumen, resins, rubber where the fibres are bound in a matrix which prevents most of them being released. This includes, typically, aged/weathered asbestos cement.
- Work associated with collecting and analysing samples to identify the presence of asbestos.
Even it if does not require a HSE licence, all non-licensable work with asbestos must still be carried out in accordance with the 2012 regulations. In addition, some types of non-licensable work, ie NNLW, still have to be notified to the HSE, including:
- Removal of asbestos cement products, eg roof sheeting, which are substantially damaged or broken up.
- Removal of asbestos cement products, eg roof sheeting where the material will be substantially broken up, creating significant quantities of dust and debris.
- Short duration – under two hours’ – work to remove asbestos insulation board as part of demolition or major refurbishment; and short duration work on asbestos insulation.
Paul Reeve is director of business services at the Electrical Contractors’ Association