In April 2012, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) updated the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 to include notification of work, record keeping for specific types of non-licensed asbestos work and medical surveillance of those workers who come into contact with asbestos.

Recently, a number of fire and rescue services have asked HSE to clarify their asbestos awareness of the legal requirements for periodic medical examinations for crew members who disturb asbestos, in particular, for fire-fighters. Currently, HSE is in consultation with the fire services to decide if any action needs to be taken and to make their legal obligations clear.

Hidden asbestos…

Many public and private premises, from schools, hospitals and factories to housing estates and residential properties still contain some half a million tonnes of asbestos hidden in the fabric of buildings around the UK.

Thousands of construction and related trade industry workers are known to be constantly at risk of exposure whenever they begin renovation work. In the majority of cases, any work with asbestos must be undertaken by a licensed contractor, such as handling sprayed asbestos coatings, most insulation /pipe lagging and asbestos insulating board (AIB).

Emergency Services at risk…

However, emergency service crews can also be at risk of exposure to asbestos materials when called to premises where the fabric of the building has been damaged by fire, flood, explosion or other extreme disturbance.

Even short term exposure can be sufficient to inhale the deadly asbestos fibre dust particles. Once embedded within the ling linings, a period of between 15 to 50 years may elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms or early signs of mesothelioma appear or are recognised.

Despite the ban on the most toxic types in the mid 1980s, white asbestos fibres ( chrysotile) remained in use as an insulating and fire retardant building material ( mixed with cement or plaster) for at least another ten years until imports were banned in 1999.

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, there has been a prescribed legal procedure for the precise operation of controlled asbestos removal and disposal, which involves secure containment by careful bagging and dust suppression.

Health surveillance by 2015

From 2012, brief written records must also be kept of non-licensed work listing all workers involved plus their likely level of exposure to asbestos.

HSE stipulate that by April 2015, all workers/self employed carrying out notifiable, non-licensed work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a doctor. Workers who are already under health surveillance for licensed work need not have another medical examination for non-licensed work.

Click here to find out more about Non-Licensed Work with Asbestos at the HSE website