Builders, demolition workers and other trade firms can be brought to court for failing to observe the regulations, which require pre work asbestos surveys to be carried out and compliance with stringent procedures for asbestos waste removal.

Even when asbestos surveys have been undertaken, either at an earlier period of time or just prior to new work commencing, it can still be the case that the survey and key information it contains fails to be communicated to contractors and their employees. As a result, renovations begin and asbestos-containing materials are uncovered and handled with a potential health risk to workers, on-site employees and local area inhabitants.

Few builders not aware of asbestos risk

Increasingly, professional construction industry companies and trade associations will often collaborate in running courses aimed at educating new generations of builders and tradesmen in the ever present risks of asbestos still hidden in thousands of public, private and commercial buildings around the UK. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have also rolled out regular asbestos awareness campaigns, such as “Hidden Killer” and “Asbestos Essentials”.

There can be few builders and related tradesmen who would not be aware of the potential risk of asbestos exposure,  the requirement to scrutinise surveys, and the implementation of proper protection and disposal procedures. However, it seems that despite the best intentions of HSE and responsible trade bodies, failure in communication and the sharing of vital information is yet another oversight that building firms appear to make.

Survey failed to be passed to site foreman

In a recent case, a detailed asbestos survey carried out two months previously, and which clearly identified the location of asbestos wall panels inside a warehouse building, failed to be passed to site foremen and contractors actually working on site.

Consequently, a site foreman failed to recognise AIB (asbestosis insulating board) and mistakenly thought a lower risk cement material had been uncovered. The asbestos was simply removed without any adequate control measures and protective equipment put in place. At court, the building firm pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006/12 and fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,857 in costs.

Asbestos can still be found in premises

White asbestos continued to be used as an insulation product in the building industry after an initial ban was introduced for more toxic blue and brown asbestos types in the mid 1980s. Today, asbestos can still be found in both residential and commercial premises where wallboard, roofing sheets and cement were used in construction or refurbishment. Those most likely to have direct daily contact will include, demolition contractors, builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and roofers.

The likelihood of contracting asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis or the fatal incurable mesothelioma cancer is related to long-term regular exposure. However, there are strict guidelines governing time periods of exposure to airborne fibre dust, and all asbestos removal should always be strictly controlled with respiratory protective equipment within a sealed environment by a licensed contractor.

According to part of Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006:

“An employer shall not undertake work in demolition, maintenance, or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose his employees to asbestos in respect of any premises unless …

He has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present in those premises…”

In addition, Regulation 10(1)(a) states, “Employees must be provided with adequate information, instruction and training in the dangers of and removal of asbestos.”