The professional building trade, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continue to put considerable time and effort into developing asbestos awareness and training for all those who work directly with the materials, and are potentially at regular risk of exposure.

More than 1.3 million people in the UK still come into occupational contact with asbestos, and building trade workers are still a high risk category. Asbestos removal companies are obviously on the frontline of high risk every day and it always comes as a huge disappointment when they fail to comply with all necessary safety procedures.

In one recent case, an asbestos removal company was prosecuted after it was found they forged documents so they could obtain an asbestos licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Anyone who discovers quantities of asbestos, either at home or the workplace, are advised to immediately contact their local authority who will arrange for an approved asbestos removal contractor to safely dispose of the materials, according to the mandatory regulations. Most people would assume that contractors are fully trained, approved and legally certificated to carry out the highly dangerous work.

Fake medical and asbestos training certificates

In the case which was heard at Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court, the contractors possessed both fake medical and asbestos training certificates, which they supplied to their removals team. The HSE investigation also found that the company was unable to show that they properly trained or adequately monitored their workers who were exposed to asbestos.

The disturbance of asbestos-containing materials – often found to be worn, damaged or disintegrating – releases deadly fibre dust particles into the air, which if inhaled, can eventually lead to debilitating asbestosis disease or fatal mesothelioma cancer of the lung linings. When “rogue” tradespeople attempt to carry out asbestos removal without the correct training, knowledge or certifications, not only is the workforce put at immediate risk but also others on site, such as employees or tenants.

Suspicions may be aroused over the initial quotation

It is essential to determine that the firm contracted to carry out an asbestos survey and removal are legally qualified. At the outset, the suspicions of a duty holder, whose has a responsibility for the safety of those on the premises, may be aroused over the initial quotation, as well in trying to ask for examples of past work and experience, especially in the regional area.

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), there are three categories of asbestos removal work:

  • Non-licensed, non-notifiable: a ‘short duration’ disposal involving only low-risk asbestos containing materials (ACMs) which will not be damaged by the removal process.
  • Notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW): where low risk ACMs will be at risk from significant damage caused during removal.
  • Licensed, notifiable: removal requires more than a short duration to complete and involves medium or high risk ACMs (asbestos insulating board, insulation or spray).

Under the Regulations, all licensed, notifiable work carried out must:

  • Normally be carried out by a licensed contractor.
  • Have a minimum 14 days notification provided by the contractor to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) before starting work.
  • Be inspected and air tested by a UKAS laboratory, which will issue a Certificate of Reoccupation upon completion.

The asbestos removal company pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £23,000 including costs. Two of the firm’s managers were ordered to pay costs totalling £2,000 and were each given community service, and one manager handed a suspended 2-year prison sentence.

Reasonably suspect the possible presence of asbestos

Anyone living in a house, flat or working in a premises built or refurbished up until 2000 should reasonably suspect the possible presence of asbestos. The import of white asbestos into Britain was finally banned at the end of 1999.

The professional construction industry repeatedly warn that there could be half a million properties still containing asbestos materials in the fabric of the building, including the interior walls ceilings and exterior roofing. In 2003, it was estimated that there was still around six million metric tons of asbestos containing materials in buildings across the UK.

The building, trade skills and demolition industries have access to numerous asbestos training courses, which are widely available. In addition, the HSE provide comprehensive information and data on all aspects of safe and legal working with asbestos aimed at any individual, employed or self-employed, who is at daily risk of exposure to asbestos.