Building firms who disregard the legal requirements of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 /12 can be regularly featured in local, and even national news reports. A 2011 survey of builders found that one in four of tradesmen were unaware of when they come into direct contact with asbestos and only one in eight claimed to have a good working knowledge or qualifications with the deadly insulating material.

Despite the results of the survey, it can often be the case that it was not a building firm’s lack of asbestos awareness to the potential health risks but simply a motivation to minimise time and costs, which led to a deliberate flouting of the regulations. In some cases, even notices from the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) have also been ignored.

A recent more extreme example where the legal requirements were flagrantly ignored concerns an asbestos removal company who were prosecuted for failure to possess a current licence for asbestos removal work.

“Inadequate performance”

According to the subsequent HSE investigation, the asbestos removal firm’s licence had expired the month prior to work being undertaken, which involved the removal of a ceiling containing asbestos insulation board (AIB). It was further revealed that the application for a licence renewal, which required a formal interview had been refused on the grounds of the firm’s “inadequate performance.”

Despite of knowing they possessed an expired licence and their application renewal had been refused, the firm proceeded to carry on with the planned asbestos removal work. At the court hearing, the company was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 in costs after admitting breaching Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Under the Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, “An employer must hold a licence granted under paragraph (2) before undertaking any licensable work with asbestos.” In addition, the ‘General Requirements’ include the notification of working with asbestos, the carrying out of instruction and training, and arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.

Correctly contain and dispose

A key action required by a licensed asbestos contractor is to correctly contain and dispose of asbestos unless the work involves exposure of a sporadic and low intensity, i.e. does not cause the ten minute limit of 0.6f/cm3 (f/ml) or the 4 hour control limit of 0.1f/cm3 (f/ml) to be exceeded. Invariably, this will require the correct procedure for sealing off the contaminated area, use of regulation breathing masks, protective equipment, controlled waste bagging and secured removal.

HSE state that more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed each year to asbestos, many of whom are employed in the building, demolition and waste removal industries. At least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are also diagnosed annually.

Environmental exposure risk

Disregard for health and safety on property renovations where there is a potential hazard from exposure to asbestos not only affects the workers on site but also the usual occupiers such as householders or tenants, employees, staff, etc. Environmental exposure is also a real danger as any handling of exposed asbestos materials can easily release airborne fibre dust, which can present a more widespread and longer term risk.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) publish the ACoP (Approved Code of Practice) ‘Work with Materials Containing Asbestos’ (CAR2006)’ (L143), which sets out procedures for where a licensed is either mandatory or not required.