Asbestos Law Update

WSP02_000002542730Asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year from related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. On 6 April 2012, new Regulations regarding the control of asbestos came into force.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 revoke and replace the existing 2006 Regulations, covering the prohibition of asbestos, the control of asbestos at work and asbestos licensing. The reason for the change is that the European Commission (EC) concluded that the UK had not fully implemented a Directive on the protection of workers from the risks of exposure to asbestos.

The new Regulations narrow the types of work to which the exemptions apply, meaning employers carrying out certain types of low risk, short duration work, particularly with ‘friable’ (crumbly) asbestos are no longer exempt from requirements to:

  • Notify the work to the relevant enforcing authority;
  • Carry out medical examinations; and
  • Keep registers of work with asbestos.

The Regulations prohibit the importation, supply and use of all forms of asbestos. They continue the ban introduced for blue and brown asbestos in 1985 and for white asbestos in 1999. They also continue the ban on the second-hand use of asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheets and asbestos boards and tiles, including panels that have been covered with paint or textured plaster containing asbestos.

The ban applies to new uses of asbestos. If existing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are in good condition, they may be left in place, their condition monitored and managed to ensure they are not disturbed.


The changes are most likely to affect employers (including the self employed) who carry out short duration work on plant and equipment or buildings which contain asbestos materials and those who procure such work. Furthermore employers who are having asbestos work carried out by contractors should ensure that their contractor has notified the authorities where relevant.

The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) has warned that new asbestos legislation will “undoubtedly lead to extra costs for many employers in the electrical contracting industry”.

Paul Reeve, the Head of Health and Safety and Environment at the ECA, said, “The Health and Safety Executive has put considerable thought into limiting the financial impact of the changes, but the new Regulations will still require thousands of maintenance contractors to provide three-yearly respiratory health assessments for tens of thousands of their operatives. This could lead to a significant increase in costs.”

He added, “A major practical problem is that contractors can’t predict if an employee will actually do any ‘notifiable non-licensed work’. However, they will need regular health assessments, just in case they are required for this type of project. The extra cost will also widen the gulf between responsible small contractors and ‘cowboys’, who will take their chances and not carry out health surveillance.”

The ECA said it hoped to work with the Health and Safety Executive on delivering the most cost effective routes to health surveillance and that an authoritative explanation of the costs and benefits of the newly required surveillance would be welcomed.

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