Last week, MPs called for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings within the next 40 years.
The Government’s Work and Pensions Select Committee wants the asbestos to be removed because the substance remains the biggest workplace killer in the UK with around 5,000 deaths linked to it every year.
Even though the use of asbestos was banned in this country more than 20 years ago, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates hundreds of thousands of non-domestic buildings still contain asbestos as well many more homes and domestic garages.
Currently, there is no target date for asbestos to be removed from public buildings or private homes in the UK.
Why are MPs calling for asbestos to be removed from public buildings?
Many people wrongly see asbestos as a problem of the past but thankfully the Work and Pensions Committee has recognised that the hazardous substance remains a significant threat to people across the UK.
Anyone who has been following our campaign to tackle asbestos in schools will know that frighteningly it is estimated 80 per cent of our schools are believed to still contain asbestos.
Sadly, this means we are seeing teachers dying from asbestos-related diseases simply as a result of day-to-day activities such as pinning work to noticeboards – not realising the boards contained asbestos.
We’re also seeing people dying from asbestos-related diseases because they were exposed to asbestos in schools when they were children.
This makes it painfully clear that it’s not just those involved in the construction industry who are at risk from asbestos – our teachers, children and workers across all industries are also in danger if they spend their days in public and commercial buildings.
Indeed, the Work and Pensions Committee has warned that while ‘extreme exposures’ might be a thing of the past they fear the risks are actually likely to increase.
They want asbestos to be removed from public buildings because they are conscious that many buildings will be undergoing work in the coming decades so they can meet net zero requirements which means the chance of asbestos in those buildings being disturbed is set to increase.
The danger with this is if the work is not carried out correctly and asbestos is disturbed it releases tiny fibres into the air which can cause a range of fatal and serious diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer.
Will the proposed deadline for asbestos to be removed from public buildings work?
It is a positive step forward that MPs are highlighting the issue of asbestos in our buildings and that they have said that they want to see schools prioritised.
They hope by setting a clear deadline it will help to focus minds however, we have to admit we do have some reservations about the possibility of the Government effectively creating a 40-year countdown.
Experience has shown us that when the Government has instigated changes to the way asbestos is managed previously it has not always yielded the best results.
In the past, when we’ve seen the Government set time limits on changes to the way asbestos is managed in the UK, we’ve seen inexperienced companies entering the asbestos industry hoping to take advantage of gold rush in work.
Such deadlines have led to poor quality work taking place and have also tempted those responsible for managing asbestos on their premises to cut corners – all of this can put lives at risk.
What we’d prefer to see is a greater focus or requirement on asbestos removal when building works are planned to take place.
So, for example, when building dutyholders decide to refurbish their premises we want them to be required to remove any asbestos in the area at that point so the work can be carefully planned in advance.
To achieve this successfully and safely they should make sure they have an Asbestos Refurbishment Survey right at the start of the planning process.
This will help them to identify if there is asbestos in the area they are refurbishing, what type of asbestos it is and where it is.
They then have the time to bring in an experienced asbestos removal company to make sure any work is carried out safely and legally. This will not only help them to protect people’s lives but will ensure they are not at risk of prosecution for breaking health and safety laws relating to asbestos.
It would also be hugely helpful if a requirement was introduced which stated if materials containing asbestos start to degrade they should be removed and the current option to repair them was removed.
A greater focus on asbestos removal during planned building works and a requirement for degrading asbestos to be removed would make a huge difference to keeping people safe from asbestos.
How can Acorn help?
Our highly skilled team provides Asbestos Removal Management to ensure our clients’ asbestos projects are completed on time, within budget and to the highest standards.
We don’t undertake asbestos removals inhouse which means the information we give our clients about asbestos removal is independent, impartial and always in their best interests.
Throughout the process we also give our clients access to their own experienced and qualified project manager to guide them through their asbestos removal project.
Acorn is a professional asbestos consultancy helping organisations deal with asbestos compliance using asbestos surveys, asbestos air testing, and asbestos removal management.Please call one of the team, or use the online form to obtain your free quotation. If you would like further information or advice on asbestos and asbestos training, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or Contact Us