Understanding Employer Responsibilities Regarding Asbestos

Prior to its ban in 1999, asbestos was widely used in buildings throughout the UK. With its abilities to strengthen and provide both insulation and fireproofing, it was used in all sorts of materials, from cement and paint to roofing and piping.

When asbestos remains undisturbed, it doesn’t pose a health risk. However, if an asbestos-containing material (ACM) is damaged, it can release microscopic fibres that become dangerous if inhaled.

Once asbestos fibres stick to the lungs, they’re impossible to remove. They can cause serious illnesses and cancers as far as decades in the future. That means that even small amounts of asbestos exposure in the workplace can have life-threatening consequences later in life.

As an employer, you have a responsibility to manage asbestos risk in the workplace. That includes determining where ACMs are present and monitoring them for damage. It also involves training employees to safely work with asbestos or hiring professionals to remove asbestos.

Employer Responsibilities Regarding Asbestos

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Inhaling asbestos fibres puts you at risk for developing diseases, including:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure can also put you at a greater risk of developing other types of cancers, such as colon cancer.

Studies have shown that asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma can take between 30 and 40 years to arise after asbestos exposure. In some cases, the latency period could be as short as approximately 10 years.

Asbestos exposure is often preventable, and it’s imperative that employers take the most stringent steps to keep everyone on the premises safe. Otherwise, people’s lives are at risk.

Legal Framework and Regulations

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 lays out the requirements for working with asbestos. This includes guidelines for both licenced and unlicenced work, such as the following:

  • Existing ACMs that are in good condition and not in danger of being damaged can remain where they are so long as their condition is monitored regularly.
  • The person responsible for the maintenance of a commercial property also has a duty to manage any asbestos on the premises.
  • Before any work is carried out on the property, the asbestos risk must be assessed and planned for.

Regarding employer obligations to protect employees as well as the general public, the duty to manage means that anyone on the premises must be protected from asbestos exposure.

Identifying Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs)

To properly manage asbestos on your premises, a thorough survey and assessment must be conducted on a regular basis, such as yearly.

When creating a materials assessment, the following should be recorded:

  • What type of ACM was found
  • Where it was discovered
  • How much of the material is present
  • The accessibility of the ACM
  • The ACM’s condition
  • If there’s any surface treatment on the ACM
  • The type of asbestos present (often requires sampling)

It’s helpful to know the types of ACMs most commonly found in your type of building. For example, textured coatings in buildings built before 1999 typically contain asbestos, and industrial buildings often have loose-fill asbestos as insulation in roof, wall and floor cavities.

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Unless you have experience identifying asbestos and ACMs, it can be difficult to know (a) if a material contains or may contain asbestos and (b) if that material is damaged or could be easily damaged.

That’s why it’s best to hire a professional asbestos surveyor who can assess the property, discover ACMs, decide if any pose a risk, and take samples to find out what type of asbestos is present. Knowing the type of asbestos in a material is necessary for creating a removal plan of action.

Responsibilities of Employers

The HSE details the duty holder’s requirements for managing asbestos. Steps include the following:

  • Conducting an asbestos survey and assessment to determine risk.
  • For materials that may or may not contain asbestos, assume they do and act accordingly.
  • Create and maintain a record of ACMs and all relevant details.
  • Prepare an asbestos management plan and put the plan into action.
  • Notify those on site, including contractors and employees, that asbestos is present and your plans for handling it.
  • Provide asbestos information and/or training to employees as needed.
  • Implement the appropriate control measures to keep everyone safe while asbestos work occurs.
  • Regularly review the asbestos management plan to keep it updated.

Moreover, other people on the premises are required to cooperate and comply with the duty holder so asbestos can be managed.

Asbestos Management Plan

A comprehensive asbestos management plan must be created by the duty holder. The plan should include the following:

  • The name of the duty holder who is responsible for managing the site’s asbestos.
  • A basic layout of the site to visually map out the building and where asbestos is or may be present.
  • The asbestos register, which is a log of the ACMs found, where they are located, their condition, etc.
  • An assessment of the risks associated with the present ACMs.
  • A strategy for managing those risks.
  • Established procedures for handling and disposing of the ACMs.
  • A schedule for inspecting and monitoring the ACMs on a regular basis to keep the asbestos management plan relevant.
  • The strategy for notifying others on the premises about asbestos management.

The HSE has a sample asbestos management plan that’s helpful when creating your own.

Control Measures

The duty holder must ensure that effective control measures are in place to minimise asbestos exposure when working with ACMs. This includes:

  • Wearing personal and respiratory protective equipment.
  • Encapsulating or sealing the ACMs to prevent fibres from escaping.
  • Returning the ACMs to a safe state or removing them from the property.
  • Using labels or warning signs when disposing of ACMs or to alert people to the presence of an ACM so it remains undisturbed.
  • Implementing engineering controls in high-risk areas to reduce the number of airborne asbestos fibres.
  • Conducting proper maintenance and repair procedures on a predetermined schedule to ensure the property remains safe.

It’s also important that non-asbestos risks are taken into account. For example, if an ACM is in a hard-to-reach location, safety measures have to be followed so the worker doesn’t fall or get injured.

Training and Education

Quite a bit of education and training is needed before you can safely handle asbestos.

While asbestos awareness is important in the workplace, it isn’t enough for a person who will be working directly with ACMs. The purpose of asbestos awareness is to teach people how to avoid damaging ACMs during the normal course of work.

For workers who will be working with damaged ACMs or disturbing ACMs for the sake of removing them, more training is needed. That includes:

  • Assessing the risk of asbestos exposure prior to the start of work.
  • Implementing safety measures, like how to control asbestos exposure and the types of clothing to wear.
  • Understanding how to clean, repair or remove different types of ACMs.
  • Knowing how to handle different kinds of asbestos waste.
  • Following legal requirements, such as where to dispose of certain kinds of asbestos waste.

Additionally, any worker handling asbestos should have a firm grasp of emergency procedures in case something goes wrong.

Communication with Employees and Contractors

Part of the duty holder’s responsibility is to have transparent communication with others about the presence of asbestos on the premises.

Employees, as well as contractors, must be informed about the locations and risks of the ACMs. This is to ensure everyone’s safety. It also shows that you’re aware of the situation, taking it seriously and putting everyone’s well-being first.

Your communication plan may include the following strategies:

  • Labelling ACMs with asbestos stickers.
  • Telling employees which areas to stay away from until the asbestos is removed.
  • Instructing workers to tell you right away if they notice damaged materials.

Make sure to add your communication efforts to your asbestos management plan.

Ongoing Monitoring and Review

Asbestos management isn’t a one-time job. Continual evaluation is needed so that everyone can remain safe now and in the future.

Make sure to regularly review and update your asbestos management plan according to the schedule you included in it. At the least, assess ACMs every 6 to 12 months.

If damage or disturbance occurs in between routine checks, make sure to follow the process for safely encapsulating or removing the asbestos.

Final Thoughts

Employers have a duty to manage asbestos in the workplace. With asbestos exposure posing such a great risk to you, your employees and anyone who comes onto the property, it’s irresponsible to brush this responsibility aside. Assuming everything is fine could lead to deadly repercussions in the future.

Proactive management is the best way to safeguard the health and well-being of your employees. If you feel that you need a professional asbestos surveyor to assess your property, contact us today.

Mark Carter

Written by Mark Carter

Mark Carter is a renowned expert in asbestos management, offering clients vital guidance on compliance and safety. His expertise is invaluable for navigating asbestos regulations, ensuring both safety and legal adherence. Mark's role is central in providing effective asbestos-related solutions, helping clients achieve their business objectives with an emphasis on regulatory compliance and safety in asbestos management.