It was only in 1983 that Asbestos (Licencing) Regulations introduced the requirement for companies or individuals working with asbestos coating or asbestos insulation products to possess a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) licence.
Another twenty years elapsed before the 2003 Regulations instructed that the relevant authority must be notified of the details to any asbestos work which required a license, at least 14 days prior to the commencement of work. The Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2006 unified all previous prohibition and licencing regulations into one comprehensive reference document.
Following correspondence with the European Commission, the HSE is presently in consultation on plans to once again modify aspects of the 2006 Regulations. The aim is to more accurately reflect current levels of health risk concerns to companies and organisations who come into working contact with chrysotile white asbestos, estimated to be still present in a half a million premises around the UK.
Despite the continuing asbestos awareness campaigns of HSE, inconsistency of working knowledge and methods by construction firms and premises owners to the necessary actions required when first inspecting site building, encountering, containing and disposing of asbestos material.
Despite being banned from the 1980s onwards, white asbestos continued to be used in insulating materials such as wall board, wall coatings and cement products found in a wide variety of commercial and domestic building applications.
Currently, there are two existing categories of asbestos work:
1. Licensed asbestos work
2. Non-Licensed asbestos work
Currently, non-licensed work is exempt from requirements to:
- Notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority
- Carry out medical (respiratory) examinations
- Maintain registers of work (health records)
- Hold an asbestos licence
- Have arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies
- Designate asbestos areas
While the licensed asbestos work category remains unchanged, HSE propose to modify non-licensed asbestos work by introducing additional measures for short duration exposure to 'friable' ( fragile and disintegrating) or 'damaged or degraded' asbestos. A new category of asbestos work is to be introduced in addition to the two existing categories.
3. Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW).
Work under this new category will be exempt from requirements to:
- Hold an asbestos licence.
- Have arrangements for accidents, incidents and emergencies.
- Designate asbestos areas.
However, work under the new category will require employers to:
- Notify their work with asbestos to the "relevant enforcing authority".
- Carry out medical (respiratory) examinations.
- Maintain registers of work (health records).
HSE propose that requirements for notifying work with asbestos, health records and medical surveillance will not apply where:
a) Exposure of employees to asbestos is sporadic and of low intensity.
b) It is clear from the risk assessment that the exposure of any employee to asbestos will not exceed the control limitwhere the work involves -
(i) Short, non-continuous maintenance activities in which only non-friable materials are handled.
(ii) Removal without deterioration of non-degraded materials in which the asbestos fibres are firmly bonded in a matrix.
(iii) Encapsulation/sealing of asbestos-containing materials which are in good condition.
(iv) Air monitoring/control, and the collection /analysis of samples to confirm whether a material contains asbestos.
Existing regulations do not specifically require the asbestos to be 'non-friable' or 'non-degraded' and the European Commission also seems to require a respiratory examination of industry personnel every three years due to uncertainty of not will knowing if there has been an encounter with asbestos in 'notifiable' situations.
Throughout the twentieth century and right up until the present day, dangers of asbestos exposure were continually ignored by building trade personnel or building owners. As a result, joiners, plasterers, plumbers, electricians and other operatives would be constantly at fatal risk of inhaling deadly asbestos fibre dust, which remains permanently embedded within the linings of the lungs and would develop into asbestosis disease or the malignant incurable cancer, mesothelioma.
The first asbestosis symptoms would not appear until some 15 to 50 years later, often at an advanced stage when prognosis would be between 4 to 18 months.
In the UK, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has risen to 2, 250 in 2008 and over 2,000 diagnosed cases are recorded each year.
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