The Control Of Asbestos At Work Regulations Act 2002

The Control Of Asbestos At Work Regulations Act 2002 came into force in 2004 and aims to protect workers from exposure to deadly asbestos fibres.

The Act creates a legal duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises. It requires employers and duty holders (anyone who has control, or a maintenance obligation under a contract of tenancy, in relation to any part of commercial premises) to manage the risk from asbestos.

The new rules are designed to safeguard building and maintenance workers by forcing companies to check for asbestos in buildings for which they are responsible.

If it is disturbed, asbestos produces microscopic fibres. If inhaled, these asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis (hardening of the lung tissue) and lead to lung cancers such as mesothelioma.

It is estimated that asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, kill an estimated 3,500 people in the UK each year and the figure is expected to continue rising for the next decade.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos represents the biggest occupational health risk ever faced by UK workers. At the time of introduction, it was hoped the new workplace asbestos rules could save 5,000 lives.

Asbestos has been banned as a building material for some time, but people are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer as a direct result of previous exposure. It is estimated that about half a million buildings across the UK contain asbestos, as it was a widely used during the previous hundred years or so.

The new asbestos laws require employers to show greater diligence in following the guidelines and provisions to ensure people are protected from exposure to asbestos fibres. Failure to observe the new rules may mean employers face unlimited fines and even imprisonment if found liable for workers' ill-health resulting from exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

This doesn’t only cover your own employees – but also any external contractors working on your business premises. Plumbers, heating engineers, alarm maintenance contractors, and decorators are all at risk of disturbing asbestos if it is present in your premises. As a result, you could face claims for damages arising from such exposure.

In order to comply with the Control Of Asbestos At Work Regulations Act 2002, employers and duty holders need to:
  • take reasonable steps to determine the presence of asbestos in any premises owned, occupied, or
  • managed by them and for which they have responsibility
  • assume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence to suppose they do not
  • assess the risk of anyone being exposed to asbestos
  • keep an up-to-date written record of the location and condition of all asbestos
  • repair or remove any material that contains, or is presumed to contain, asbestos if necessary
  • prepare and review an asbestos management plan to manage the risk
  • monitor the condition of any asbestos-containing materials
When assessing the asbestos risk in your workplace, it is important to ensure that any asbestos management consultants you engage are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) for the analysis of asbestos fibres.

Any work dealing with the removal or encapsulating of asbestos must be carried out under a licence obtained from the HSE.

The new law relating to asbestos at work came into force in 2004. Therefore, if employers or duty holders have not already done so, they should start work on managing the risk from asbestos now, in order to avoid the risk of fines and to start saving lives.

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