MPs urge a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from public buildings

Members of Parliament (MPs) have called for all asbestos to be taken out of the remaining public and commercial buildings in which it is present within 40 years.

According to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, asbestos continues to be the UK’s biggest cause of work-related deaths, over 5,000 such fatalities having been recorded for 2019.

removal of asbestos from public buildings

Although efforts have been made over many years to eradicate asbestos from non-domestic buildings, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has estimated that the potentially lethal material might still be present in 300,000 buildings in this category, as well as in many homes.

The UK Government has not set any target date for the nationwide removal of all remaining asbestos in public buildings and private residences.

An extremely concerning substance – and the risk has not entirely gone away

It is well-known that the various materials known as asbestos can be perilous to the health of people who come into direct contact with them – exposure to the substance having long been linked to the development of cancer and other dangerous lung conditions.

However, with the UK having banned the use of all varieties of asbestos more than two decades ago – in 1999 – there is perhaps a lack of awareness among some people of the risks that lingering examples of asbestos fibres in buildings could still pose.

Sure enough, while the MPs on the committee acknowledged that the days of “extreme exposures” to asbestos may be in the past, the general level of risk presented by the substance was actually likely to go up, rather than down.

The Parliamentarians said that initiatives to retrofit buildings to meet net zero requirements meant that more asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) would be disturbed in the decades ahead.

Although the Government and HSE have both said that they think asbestos should be removed, the committee said that neither entity had proposed a “clear and comprehensive strategy” for making this a reality.

Could a “clear deadline” help “focus minds” on asbestos removal?

The committee indeed indicated its belief that such a definite deadline could be useful. The MPs said that efforts should be made to remove all asbestos from non-domestic buildings within the next 40 years, beginning with the highest-risk sites such as schools.

The MPs stated: “Simple reliance on a set of regulations which devolve asbestos management to individual duty holders – the building owners or managers responsible for maintenance – will not be good enough.

“We need a pan-government and ‘system-wide’ strategy for the long-term removal of asbestos, founded on strong evidence of what is best from a scientific, epidemiological, and behavioural point of view.”

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