• International Workplace
  • 18 December 2019

Unite demands stronger asbestos legislation

Union Unite has demanded the government enact stronger asbestos legislation after a report released by the ResPublica think tank found that workers and members of the public are being put at risk by inadequate UK legislation.

The report found that a child in the UK can be legally exposed to ten times as much asbestos as they can in European countries such as France or Germany.

With an estimated six million tonnes of asbestos still present in one-and-a-half million predominantly public buildings in the UK ­– including in 94% of NHS trusts and 80% of schools ­– the report called for a ‘phased removal’ of asbestos.

The report also called for UK asbestos regulation to be brought up to the strictest European standards and for a registry of public buildings containing asbestos to be created.

Asbestos caused 2,523 deaths from mesothelioma in 2017, according to the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures.

Unite national officer for local authorities, Jim Kennedy said:

“This report is a damning indictment of the government’s utter disregard of the very real risks asbestos poses not just to hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, whose workplaces still contain dangerous levels of the substance, but children, patients and the millions of other people who use public buildings every day. 

“The policy of simply leaving asbestos untouched in heavily-utilised buildings is not good enough. The government might want people to believe that asbestos is a historical issue that poses little risk today, but that is not true. Teachers are dying of mesothelioma at five times the rate of those not exposed to asbestos and nurses at three times the rate. 

“Unite fully supports the report’s calls, including for a ‘phased removal’ of asbestos, the creation of a central register of public buildings containing asbestos and for asbestos legislation to be brought up to the strictest European levels. Until that happens that scourge of asbestos and the misery it causes will continue for generations to come.” 

The full ResPublica report is available here.

All employees who are likely to be exposed to asbestos at work, or who supervise those who are, must receive training, to include:

  • Properties of asbestos.
  • The ill health effects of asbestos.
  • Types of materials that may contain asbestos.
  • Work operations that may result in a release of asbestos fibres.
  • Safe work practices when working on ACMs.
  • Exposure control limits and air monitoring.
  • Specific use of personal protective equipment for work on ACMs.
  • Emergency procedures if exposed to asbestos fibres.
  • Hygiene and decontamination procedures.
  • Waste handling.
  • Health surveillance requirements.