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A new report by the policy think tank ResPublica has shown that the UK Government is failing to take the risks posed by asbestos as seriously as other European Governments creating a “asbestos safety gap” with UK citizens paying the potential price.

The current legislation concerning asbestos is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The regulations do not state that asbestos should be removed as you may expect. Instead, as long as it is in a “good condition” and “well protected” then the asbestos should be maintained.  The regulations place responsibility on the “duty holder” to keep a written record of location and condition of asbestos in non-domestic property.

However, there is no obligation to respond to surveys issued by the Health and Safety Executive. As a result of this, there is no central register or database detailing where asbestos is located. In addition to this, there appears to be no systematic inspections for asbestos in our public buildings. It has to be of great concern to us, the public, that the public buildings we use are not regularly inspected when it comes to asbestos.

Sadly, it is not just the lack of inspections that should be worrying. The way asbestos exposure is measured in this country is not as strict as compared to other European countries. For example, the UK permits a level of airborne asbestos 10 times greater than is allowed in Germany.  The measuring technique in the UK is also far less accurate than in other European countries. 

The report by ResPublica not only highlights the failures in legislation but also highlights the fact that a number of government owned buildings such as schools and universities as well as private buildings such as dockyards and factories are still rife with asbestos. The report highlights that 80% of British schools contain asbestos. The deadly dust has also been found in the halls of residence of universities and number of our hospitals. While there is no evidence to suggest that this asbestos has been disturbed or will be disturbed, there is always this potential and always this danger. It cannot be a simple coincidence that nurses and teachers are 3-5 times more likely to develop mesothelioma a disease often caused by exposure to asbestos, than the general population.

Simply put, there is much more that could and should be done. A number of recommendations are made, including the introduction of a central asbestos register for all public building. There are a further number of recommendations to be found in the report. If implemented, the UK will finally regulate asbestos like it always should have.

In conclusion, the current regulations surrounding asbestos in UK are not up to scratch and are severely lacking when compared to their European counterparts. The legacy of the UK’s asbestos use and exposure casts a long shadow which the UK Government needs to address to ensure more efficient measures are taken in the future.

Blog by Nathan McHardy, Trainee Solicitor

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