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Asbestos in focus

31 January 2024
Asbestos remains the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and is a top priority for the HSE. We review the HSE's focus on asbestos and its ever increasing campaigns.

Widespread use of products containing asbestos during the 1950s, 60s and 70s has led to a large increase in asbestos-related diseases in Great Britain over the last few decades. As such, asbestos remains the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and is a top priority for the HSE.

According to HSE statistics published in 2023, around 5,000 people die every year from asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Additionally, 64% of all deaths resulting from occupational lung diseases were caused by conditions linked to asbestos exposure.

Where asbestos is present in buildings it must be managed, maintained in a good condition, and stay undisturbed. If this level of protection cannot be achieved, then asbestos must be removed. In the case of asbestos, the HSE focuses on ensuring proper management, removal, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials to prevent exposure and minimise health risks.

Recent HSE campaigns around asbestos

In order to protect Great Britain's workforce and raise awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure, the HSE has recently launched a number of campaigns relating to asbestos, with the most recent being launched at the outset of the New Year.  

Asbestos and You

In April 2023, the HSE launched a campaign called Asbestos and You that aims to educate tradespeople about the potential risks from asbestos that still exist in properties built before 2000. The focus of the campaign was on younger tradespeople, with the HSE concerned that the length of time it takes for symptoms to develop after asbestos exposure could lead to a perception among today's younger workers that it is something that only impacts older people who were working before the ban. As asbestos can still be found in things like cement boards, garage roofs, bath panels and boiler houses – the campaign aims to raise awareness of the risks involved with disturbing or damaging asbestos containing materials.

The HSE has produced a guide to assist tradespeople to identify areas of buildings that asbestos is most likely to be found, the differences between licenced and non-licenced work and practical steps to take before starting a job to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure.

Dust Kills

In a bid to reduce the number of life threatening diseases caused by dust, the HSE launched a Dust Kills campaign. This campaign provided free advice to businesses and workers on control measures that should be put in place to prevent exposure to dust on work sites. Exposure to such dust can include exposure to asbestos containing materials.

In order to supplement this campaign, over the summer of 2023 HSE inspectors increased inspections that focused on dust control, checking that employers and workers knew the risks and that the correct control measures were in place. As part of these inspections, inspectors also sought assurances that asbestos containing materials have been identified and removed or managed where necessary to prevent or reduce exposure.

Asbestos: Your Duty

On 15 January 2024, the HSE launched a new campaign to aim to improve understanding of what the legal duty to manage asbestos involves: "Asbestos - Your Duty". The HSE wants anyone with responsibilities for buildings to do everything they must do to comply with the law and prevent exposure to this dangerous substance, which was widely used in post-war construction before it was completely banned in 1999. Buildings that people use in their daily lives, such as workplaces, schools and hospitals are the focus of this new campaign to keep people safe from asbestos.

Updated information, new templates (including an asbestos management plan template), and explanatory videos can be found on HSE's website to help anyone who is unsure of their legal duties – or just need to refresh themselves on what they need to do. HSE will check how asbestos is managed when visiting a range of buildings such as schools and hospitals – requiring those responsible for managing asbestos risks to ensure they have the right arrangements in place.

It is evident that the HSE will continue to focus on asbestos and carry out inspections. It is imperative that businesses and workers are aware of what steps must be taken to meet their responsibilites and to prevent or reduce exposure to asbestos.  

DWF's regulatory team has experience and expertise in asbestos related matters. We also offer a crisis response service and experienced team of lawyers, PR specialists, investigators and clinical psychologists are available 24/7 to offer advice in the immediate aftermath of an incident and to guide you through your crisis.

If you have any questions, please reach out to our authors below.

We would like to thank Shaun Marshall for his contribution to this article.

Further Reading