“How many builders does it take – not to change a light bulb – but to safely remove and dispose of asbestos-insulating board (AIB)?”

The answer is “None”. Unless they are licensed contractors. AIB is covered by the definition in regulation 2(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), which requires statutory removal under license, even if the board was not used as insulation.

Small building firms brought to court

The majority of construction and demolition firms will see the requirements of asbestos awareness, risk assessment and safety regulations as essential to responsible project management.

However, we continue to see a number of small building firms brought to court for failing to deal with the removal of the most common forms of asbestos, such as wallboard or corrugated garage roofing, which can release potentially harmful fibre particles into the immediate environment.

In one recent case, an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that “a significant quantity of asbestos insulating board (AIB)” had been removed from a premises by an unlicensed building firm, which had exposed its workers to a potential health risk.

A part of the knowledge and qualified skills training

The dangers of working with asbestos, which can lead to developing fatal, incurable mesothelioma or asbestosis disease have come to be more widely recognised in British industry over the last forty years. The safe disposal of asbestos forms a part of the knowledge and qualified skills training required by the construction trades industry.

In addition, asbestos training courses are run by trade organisations and online campaigns created by bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who also carry out regular worksite inspections. Extensive knowledge and information are also available online.

Potential risk of breathing in airborne fibres

However, firms continue to be seen flouting the law and exposing their workforce, others on-site and passers-by to the potential risk of breathing in airborne fibres every time asbestos is handled. In many cases, the contaminated area was not sealed off, the workers only issued with standard issue paper masks and the waste broken up by hand and placed unbagged in a skip.

Since November 2006, the Control of Asbestos Regulations places a duty on employers to provide appropriate training for all workers who are likely to be exposed to asbestos and to those who supervise works likely to expose employees to asbestos materials.

Aimed at non-licensed asbestos work

On the 6th April, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force, which updated all previous asbestos regulations by fully implementing EU Directive 2009/148/EC, aimed principally at companies involved in non-licensed asbestos work.

Regulation 8 (1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states: “An employer must hold a licence before undertaking any licensable work with asbestos.”

Examples of licensable work are :

  • Removing sprayed coatings.
  • Removal or other work which may disturb pipe lagging.
  • Any work involving loose fill insulation.
  • Work on millboard.
  • Cleaning up significant quantities of loose/fine debris containing asbestos containing dust (where the work is not sporadic and of low intensity, the control limit will be exceeded or it is not short duration work).
  • Work on AIB, where the risk assessment indicates that it will not be of short duration.

Examples of non-licensable work are :

  • Small, short duration maintenance tasks where the control limits will not be exceeded.
  • Removing textured decorative coatings by any suitable dust-reducing method.
  • Cleaning up small quantities of loose/ fine debris containing asbestos containing dust (where the work is sporadic and of low intensity, the control limit will not be exceeded and it is short duration work).
  • Work on asbestos cement products or other materials containing asbestos (such as paints, bitumen, resins, rubber, etc) where the fibres are bound in a matrix, which prevents most of them being released (this includes, typically, aged/weathered asbestos containing materials).
  • Work associated with collecting and analysing samples for identification.

HSE have estimated that an average of 20 tradesmen lose their lives every week to asbestos-related disease, and of the 90,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in Britain between 1970 and 2050, around 15,000 will have been employed in the building industry.