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  • International Workplace
  • 12 October 2017
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Consultation on proposals to amend Control of Asbestos Regulations

The HSE is consulting on a proposal to change Regulation 22 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012). The change involves increasing the interval within which licensed asbestos workers are required to attend a medical examination, from two years to three.

According to the HSE, asbestos-related disease is the single greatest cause of occupational death in Great Britain, estimated to cause over 5,500 deaths per annum. Mesothelioma and lung cancer are the two most significant risks to health of those working in the construction sector and allied trades. For mesothelioma, there is a long latency period of 15 to 60 years between exposure and presentation of the tumour; there is no treatment and it is usually fatal within 12 months of diagnosis.  For asbestos-related lung cancers, it is thought that the majority of cases may result from the combined effects of asbestos and carcinogens in tobacco smoke. This long latency effect means that the severe consequences of exposure often affect the individual many years after they ceased to be employed in the occupation which exposed them to asbestos.

The change the HSE is putting forward was a key recommendation of the Government report of the Post Implementation Review (PIR) of CAR 2012. It would mean that those undertaking licensed work with asbestos would be required to undergo medical examination by an HSE-appointed doctor every three years – aligning the period between medical examinations with the requirements for those carrying out non-licensed work.

The HSE argues that the core purpose of the GB health and safety system is to protect people by managing risk in a proportionate and effective way and that the HSE, through CAR 2012, exemplifies this in its proportionate, differentiated approach to work activities in premises where asbestos is or is likely to be present.

The most effective tool in preventing asbestos-related disease, the HSE says, is minimising exposure by using engineering and management controls as required by the regulatory framework. The proposal to change the frequency of medical examinations from two-yearly to three-yearly streamlines the medical surveillance requirements of the legislation, but does not represent a reduction in worker protection. 

It will also be necessary to amend the Approved Code of Practice for managing and working with asbestos (L143) to reflect the proposed change to the legislation.

The consultation document seeks views on the proposed changes and includes a number of questions to answer, divided into four parts:

 

  1. The legal changes required to bring about the recommendation in the PIR report.
  2. The amended Approved Code of Practice.
  3. The amended guidance in the Approved Code of Practice.
  4. The impact on business of making the changes.

 

Stacey Collins, Head of Health, Safety and Environment at International Workplace, said:

"The Post Implementation Review of the 2012 Regulations identified that dutyholders were unclear why there was a difference in frequency of health surveillance requirements for those doing licenced (two years) and non-licensed work (three years) if the potential for exposure was similar.

"If the distinction between licensed and non-licensed work is an important one - and presumably a risk-based one - it seems odd that in resolving the discrepancy the HSE has erred on the side of proposing to use the longer of the two intervals, rather than applying a precautionary approach and picking the two-year interval as the standard."

Unite’s Health and Safety Advisor Susan Murray said:

“Workers who are regularly coming into contact with potentially lethal asbestos are having their long-term health jeopardised because of the Government’s obsession with cutting so-called red tape. If the Government was at all interested in ensuring the safety and health of all workers required to work with asbestos it would be requiring that all such workers had medical examinations at least every two years.
 
“The fact that the consultation period was so short demonstrates that these changes are in effect a fait accompli. We trust that this is not a sham consultation and that our responses and concerns will be properly addressed.”

The consultation ends on 30 October.