How to keep yourself safe at work
Asbestos is present in many buildings across the UK, from public buildings such as schools and hospitals to private housing stock.
There are many scenarios in which you may come across asbestos in the workplace and you should be aware of the risks and the safety measures you can take.
This information has been produced in partnership with Asbestos Removal Contractors Association.
What are the relevant laws relating to asbestos and work?
The UK has strict regulations to prevent people’s exposure to asbestos fibres. These regulations are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The regulations detail what actions need to be taken to identify and manage asbestos in the workplace, who can carry out work on asbestos, what training they need, what controls they need to use and what records they need to keep.
Where is asbestos likely to be found?
Asbestos was commonly used in building materials that were used in workplace and industrial buildings 1950s – 1990s. It is no longer used as it has been shown to be unsafe and is now regulated by law. The use of any type of asbestos within the UK was banned in 1999. Therefore, it is possible that asbestos containing materials may be found in any workplace premises built or refurbished before the year 2000. However, it should be remembered that whilst asbestos should always be treated with care, it is not usually a problem unless it is disturbed or damaged.
A detailed list of typical locations where asbestos materials can be found in industrial and workplace properties can be found on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.
What does it look like?
I work in an office /school/ hospital and I think there might be asbestos in the building, what should I do?
Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires the risk from asbestos in all workplace premises to be managed. This means that the location and condition of all asbestos within the premises needs to be identified, and the risk presented by any asbestos present has to be managed to prevent harm to anyone who works on the building, or to the building occupants. If you are concerned about the presence of asbestos in your workplace, its condition, or the appropriateness of any control measures, you should speak to your employer. Your employer should be able to confirm that, all asbestos within the premises has been identified, the asbestos management plan is regularly reviewed to ensure it remains suitable and sufficient, and the presence of any asbestos is being managed in such a way that you will not come to any harm as a result of its presence. If you are still concerned you can speak to your company health and safety representative, your union representative, or if health and safety law is being broken and it is likely to cause serious harm you should report it to the HSE via their online form.
As a construction worker what measures should I be taking to ensure I am safe?
Construction workers working on buildings which were constructed or refurbished prior to the year 2000 should always consider the possibility that the building they are working on contains asbestos. Before the start of maintenance, refurbishment demolition or any other type of construction work, employers must identify the presence of asbestos as part of their risk assessment.
The owners or managers of non-domestic premises have a duty to manage asbestos. This involves identifying and recording the location and condition of any asbestos. This record must be made available to anyone carrying out work to help them to manage the risks of exposure to themselves, their employees and others. You should ask to see a copy of this to help you assess the risks and decide on any control measures you may need to put in place.
I have heard that not all masks are the same, is this true?
All masks are not the same, for protection against asbestos you must use a mask (mask in this context is more correctly called a respirator) with a P3 filter. P3 filters are used for protection against highly toxic particulates, such as asbestos.
Respirators are tight fitting face masks designed to create a face seal, they are available as disposable, half face or full face and may be powered (positive pressure) or unpowered (negative pressure). The level of protection, known as the Assigned Protection Factor (APF), afforded by each different type differs. A half face mask generally provides greater protection than a disposable mask and a full faced mask generally provides more protection than a half face mask. A powered variant of any type will generally provide greater protection than the corresponding non-powered variant. The type of respirator selected will be dependent upon the expected exposure level, the wearer, the task, and the working environment. The HSE publication ‘Respiratory protective equipment at work’ provides guidance on the selection and use of adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment in the workplace.
Do I really have to be clean shaven if I am working with asbestos?
Many masks rely on a good seal against the face so that, when you breathe air in, it is drawn into the filter material where the air is cleaned. If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, ‘dirty’ air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs. It is therefore very important that you put your mask on correctly and check for a good fit every time.
Facial hair – stubble and beards – make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face.
If you are clean-shaven when wearing tight-fitting masks (i.e., those which rely on a good seal to the face), this will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask and into your lungs. You will therefore be breathing in clean air, which will help you stay healthy.
If there are good reasons for having a beard (e.g., for religious reasons), alternative forms of RPE, that do not rely on a tight fit to the face, are available.
When is it safe for me, as a construction worker to remove asbestos myself?
Nobody should remove asbestos at work unless the presence of asbestos has been identified, a risk assessment has been carried out, a written plan of work prepared, and the individuals undertaking the work have been given sufficient information, instruction, and training to undertake the work. In addition, higher risk work with asbestos, which generally means work with asbestos coating, asbestos insulation, or asbestos insulating board, requires the employer of those carrying out the work to be licensed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
I do not have a licence to remove asbestos, but I have been asked to remove asbestos as part of my job, what should I do?
Licensed asbestos work, that is work involving higher risk asbestos materials, such as asbestos coating, asbestos insulation, or asbestos insulating board, must be carried out by employees of an employer who holds a licence to work with asbestos granted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Carrying out work on licensed asbestos without a licence is against the law and anyone found guilty is liable to be prosecuted by the HSE and given a substantial fine.
Non-licensed asbestos work, which involves lower risk asbestos materials such as asbestos cement, vinyl floor tiles or textured decorative coating can be carried out without a licence, however, there still needs to be a risk assessment carried out, a written plan of work prepared and the individuals undertaking the work need to be given sufficient information, instruction, and training to undertake the work.
If you are concerned, you can speak to your company health and safety representative, your union representative or if health and safety law is being broken and it is likely to cause serious harm you should report it to the HSE via their online form.
I work in construction and I haven’t been given any asbestos training, where can I access training myself?
Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) requires employers to make sure that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their work, or who supervises such employees, receives the correct level of information, instruction, and training to enable them to carry out their work safely, competently, and without risk to themselves or others.
The Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) which accompanies (CAR 2012) states that asbestos awareness training should be given to employees whose work could foreseeably disturb the fabric of a building and expose them to asbestos or who supervise and influence the work. In particular it should be given to those workers in the refurbishment, maintenance and allied trades where it is foreseeable that ACMs may become exposed during their work.
The ACoP has special legal status, such that if your employer is prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved they didn’t follow the relevant provisions of the ACoP, they will need to show that they have complied with the law in some other way or a court will find them at fault.
Therefore, your employer has legal duty to provide you with the correct level of information, instruction and training to enable you to carry out your work safely and competently and without risk to yourself or others.
If you are concerned that you haven’t been given any asbestos training, or the training you have been provided with is not at the right level, you can speak to your company health and safety representative, your union representative or if health and safety law is being broken and it is likely to cause serious harm you should report it to the HSE via their online form.
If you do want to access training yourself, there are many online training courses available which are very reasonably priced. NATAS offer an Asbestos Awareness training course which is free of charge if you do not require a certificate.
I work for myself as a plumber/ electrician, do I have to call an asbestos removal company if I notice asbestos while on a job?
If you are working in non-domestic premises, which were constructed prior to the year 2000, you should have been given information regarding the presence of any asbestos in the vicinity of the area you are working. If you are not given the information you should ask for it. If after taking these precautions, you still notice asbestos which you haven’t been informed about you should avoid disturbing it and inform a representative of the building owner so they can investigate and take the appropriate actions.
If you are working in domestic premises and notice asbestos, you should inform the homeowner.
The decision as to whether to contact an asbestos removal contractor will depend upon the type of asbestos material, its condition, whether any work with asbestos needs to be carried out as a result of its discovery. It will also depend upon whether any proposed work constitutes licensed work or whether the plumber/electrician is competent to carry out the work if it is non-licensed work.