Once again MPs are calling on the government to have all asbestos removed from public and commercial buildings.
Unfortunately there were more than 5,000 deaths in 2019 from cancers such as mesothelioma, even though asbestos was in fact banned over twenty years ago. This latest report from the Work and Pensions Committee shows how despite being banned asbestos is still the single greatest cause of work related fatalities in the UK.
There is also concern from the MPOs that asbestos risks are only likely to increase as many buildings continue to be adapted with the move to net zero. The fear is that more asbestos-containing materials will be disturbed in the coming decade with the increase in retrofitting.
The committee stated that the reliance on current asbestos regulations will not be good enough with asbestos still in approximately 300,000 non-domestic buildings. It stresses that a cross-government and a ‘system-wide’ strategy is needed for the long term removal of asbestos.
The government and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) are asked to back up their goal to remove all asbestos by giving a time frame and strategy. The plan is asked to strengthen the evidence based on safe and effecive asbestos removal and then to prioritise removal from high risk settings including schools.
It is considered important that the government ensures adequate funding for HSE’s inspections and enforcement of current asbestos regulations which appear to have declined in recent years.
Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and the risk from asbestos still remains, according to the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Stephen Timms MP.
“With the current drive towards retrofitting of buildings in order to meet net zero aspirations, the risk of asbestos exposure is sure to increase. To depend on the regulations which delegate responsibility to individual building owners and maintenance managers will not be enough to protect peoples health”.
“Setting a strict deadline of 40 years for the removal of asbestos from non domestic buildings should help focus minds. It is urgent that the government and HSE devise a strategic plan to increase evidence on safe removal and prioritise high risk settings such as schools.
The government needs to fund the HSE properly to ensure it reverses the decline in enforcement activity seen in the decade prior to the recent pandemic and to make certain that asbestos and its removal is managed safely and effectively.