A new report has highlighted the need for the UK to tighten its safety controls around asbestos in offices and schools.
The last industry-wide UK asbestos survey was carried out in 2003, and at the time, 83% of companies did not have asbestos plans in place. Unfortunately, the situation has not improved by much since then.
According to the report, the UK has some of the worst asbestos-related health issues in the world and must adopt the stricter regulations already followed by other countries across Europe. The level of asbestos contamination used to declare buildings suitable for normal occupation is currently unsafe by HSE standards.
The report also highlights the dangers of chronic low-level exposure to asbestos, which often occurs in many buildings in the UK. There is a lack of understanding around health issues related to asbestos exposure, and not enough emphasis on effective procedures for measuring current exposure levels. Startlingly, most of the asbestos installed in British building during the last century remains in-situ.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, amosite asbestos was often used for insulation purposes, or in cement. The asbestos was less of an issue when it was first installed, as it was in good condition. However, many UK schools, hospitals and public buildings are degrading, meaning that there is a higher risk of asbestos being disturbed, and the fibres being released and breathed in.
Teacher, caretakers and nurses are dying from asbestos exposure, and school children are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases (such as mesothelioma) at a younger age.
The report suggests that the current “duty to manage” responsibility required by the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations should be changed, and calls for the measurement of airborne asbestos fibre concentrations using modern air sampling and analysis methods.
“There is now serious and growing concern over current exposure levels from asbestos that remains in-situ because the materials themselves have either been damaged and or are degrading, increasing the likelihood of fibres being released into the air,” noted Lucion’s Chief Technical Officer, Charles Pickles.
“In the circumstances, rather than inspecting building materials for damage, the measurement of airborne fibres would enable the risk to the health of occupants to be directly measured and cost-effective asbestos abatement to be carried out.
“UK health and safety law is based on the commensurate adoption of best practice…this has not been the case with asbestos analysis methods and the time has come for the introduction of more effective control limits to ensure that occupational exposure assessments are capable of proving that buildings are indeed safe for continued use.”