The issue of potential asbestos exposure and the perceived risk to health and safety is never far from the press headlines, as the long history of the many men and women who fall victim to asbestosis disease and mesothelioma continues to this present day.
Recently, two building and demolition companies were handed large fines ( with court costs) when they failed to comply with a notification to undertake the required procedures in the removal of ‘low risk’ but still potentially dangerous asbestos from property sites prior to demolition works.
The matter had added significance because a primary school was located just ‘across the road’, close by to where one of the contractors was to carry out the demolition work, and could have presented a real danger to the pupils of exposure to airborne asbestos fibre dust, once the materials are disturbed.
The problem may not necessarily be due to a total lack of asbestos awareness to the potential dangers but often a misunderstanding of the term ‘low level’ risk, plus the imperatives of carrying out the work as fast as possible to minimise costs.
The import and use of the most toxic forms of brown and blue asbestos were prohibited from the mid 1980s, while the use of so-called ‘low level’ risk white chrysotile asbestos was only finally banned from importation in 1999 and its’ actual use made illegal by EU directive in January 2005.
However, it may be still vaguely thought that the dangers are somehow consigned to history when its peak use throughout UK industry was during the middle to the latter half of the twentieth century. In addition, white asbestos was considered less harmful than other forms of asbestos due to the curly fibres being less resistant to remaining embedded in the lung linings over a known long gestation period of up to 50 years or more before asbestosis symptoms emerge.
Nevertheless, the professional medical view is that exposure to all asbestos is potentially harmful and compliance with asbestos regulations a legal requirement.
The ‘General Requirements’ of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 include:
• Licensing of work with asbestos.
• Notification of work with asbestos.
• Information, instruction and training.
• Arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.
In April 2012, changes were also introduced, whereby, the “Non-Licensable” category of asbestos work was divided into two and a third category, known as “Notifiable Non-Licensable Work” (NNLW), was added. Under the requirements of the NNLW, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE ) requires “ brief written records should be kept of non-licensed work, which has to be notified, e.g. copy of the notification with a list of workers on the job, plus the level of likely exposure of those workers to asbestos”.
The number of mesothelioma compensation or asbestosis claim cases which asbestosis lawyers are bringing to court is still rising. In 2009, over 800 new cases of asbestosis had been reported and there are still an estimated 4,000 deaths a year caused by asbestos-related disease.