From 1st May 2015, building firms, demolition crews and other service sectors who regularly carry out Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW) with asbestos will be required to undergo medical examinations before starting any work where there they will be in contact with asbestos. The new procedure follows the previous introduction of medical surveillance under the Control of Asbestos Regulations in April 2012 for all licensed asbestos work.

Despite repeated campaigns and training initiatives by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the professional construction industry there are still far too many small to mid-size firms who seem to possess little or no asbestos awareness or training and continue to flout the most basic of safety procedures.

The aim of the new rules is also to provide workers with better knowledge and clear facts about the health risks of mesothelioma and asbestosis disease caused by regular, sustained exposure. At the same time, the importance of control measures and good working safety practices will be emphasised.

Repeated every three years

Under the new regulations, the health examinations are to be carried out by an appropriate fully registered medical practitioner and must be repeated every three years (or more frequently if advised) while any builder or tradesman continues to work with asbestos or accepts work where asbestos is present.

The employer must also maintain a register for each of his workers, which records the type and duration of work carried out with asbestos and is to be retained for at least 40 years along with copies of all medical reports. The HSE have also previously stated that “ …medicals for notifiable non-licensed work are not acceptable for those doing licensed work”.

Every year, the HSE carry out “unannounced” safety inspections of UK building sites to check compliance in key safety procedures, including awareness of asbestos and its safe removal. However, it is repeatedly found that smaller firms neglect the regulations and put their workers and others in the site vicinity at risk of asbestos exposure.

Neither qualified, experienced nor licensed to remove asbestos

Time and time again, courts hear of employees at small demolition firms who are neither qualified, experienced nor licensed to remove asbestos. Waste materials containing asbestos are simply ripped out by hand, broken up on the ground and dumped in a standard skip. Invariably, workers are not wearing the correct breathing masks, protective clothing and the area has not been sealed off.

In numerous case, the site / premises owner or duty holder simply wants the job to be completed as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible, and may not be aware of the regulations governing the safe removal of asbestos.

On 6th April, the Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations came into force, which means that all construction project ‘clients’ will now have a greater responsibility to ensure construction work on their behalf is carried out without risks to health and safety.

Ensure asbestos survey information is provided

Under the new regulations, which mostly affects large commercial projects, a principal designer and a principal contractor are to be appointed whenever any work involves more than one contractor – even where the work involved is very limited and is quickly completed.

One key duty is to ensure that relevant information, such as asbestos surveys must be provided to each designer and contractor on the project as soon as possible. They will also have to ensure that the contractor or principal contractor has drawn up a health and safety plan for all projects, including routine maintenance.

It is recognised that there could still be problems with firms not involved in large construction projects, but in routine building maintenance tasks. Similarly, small firms may feel they are able to carry on mostly ignoring the need to observe the regulations.

With more than 1.8 million people in the UK exposed each year to asbestos – mostly those working within the construction/demolition industries – and more than 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed annually, the new Regulations are an attempt to reduce disregard for health and safety on property renovations when there is still a potential risk from exposure to asbestos.