MPs set 40-year deadline for asbestos removal from workplaces

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Asbestos must be removed from all non-domestic buildings within 40 years, a select committee inquiry has found.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee said HSE had been “slow.. to understand better the costs and benefits” of large-scale asbestos removal and called upon the regulator to create a strategic plan to achieve removal.

The plan should focus on the highest risk asbestos first, including in schools, it says. Predicting a ‘dramatic’ increase in retrofitting buildings to meet net zero goals, the Committee says that more asbestos-containing materials will be disturbed in future and a cross-government approach is needed.

Speaking in support of the MPs’ calls, Peter McGettrick, Chairman of British Safety Council, said: “Just because asbestos use was banned in the UK twenty years ago, does not mean it has gone away. The UK’s public buildings are still riddled with it, and we know that teachers, nurses and other workers can become seriously ill, and in many cases die, if they come into contact with it over time.

“The Select Committee is right that we should remove asbestos from all our public and commercial buildings, and that a national register should be set up, as has been done in other European countries.”

The inquiry has been hearing evidence from asbestos support groups, unions and health and safety organisations to look at how HSE manages asbestos in buildings, who is most at risk and how well the current laws for managing asbestos are working.

HSE should draw up a plan to remove asbestos say MPs which focuses on the highest risk asbestos first, including in schools. Photograph: iStock

It has highlighted how despite being banned more than two decades ago, asbestos is still the single greatest cause of work-related fatalities in the UK. There were more than 5,000 deaths in 2019, including from cancers such as mesothelioma.

Despite the continued risk it presents, HSE has issued 60 per cent fewer asbestos enforcement notices annually between 2011/12 and 2018/19. This is a far greater drop than seen in HSE's enforcement activity in general, which has declined over this time by just 10 per cent. There has also been no ‘compelling evidence’ that compliance with the asbestos regulations has improved dramatically during this time, says the inquiry.

Calling for HSE to commit to more inspections and increased enforcement activity, Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “This is no time for laissez-faire. The Government needs to fund the HSE properly to allow it to reverse the decline in enforcement activity seen in the decade before the pandemic and ensure that asbestos, and its removal, is managed safely and effectively.”

Read the summary and report here: 



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