21 April 2022
Report published by Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee on HSE’s approach to asbestos management
The Work and Pensions Committee has published its report, following inquiry meetings into the Health and Safety Executive’s approach to asbestos management. The report makes a number of recommendations to which the Government has two months to respond.
As part of the inquiry, ARCA/ATaC was invited to attend and give evidence at an inquiry meeting and following this were asked to provide further written evidence.
The ARCA/ATaC evidence has directly led to many of the recommendations that the Committee has included in its report such as:
· Making it mandatory for all people conducting asbestos surveys to be accredited by a recognised accreditation body.
· A requirement for building owners or occupiers to commission accredited asbestos analysts to check asbestos work done in their premises.
· HSE working with others in government to develop a central digital register of asbestos in non-domestic buildings.
· HSE committing to a sustained increase in inspection and enforcement activity targeting compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
· HSE should consider whether it needs to specify minimum knowledge, training or other requirements for people performing the critical duty holder’s role under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
What are all the Committee’s recommendations?
The risk today
· The committee recommend that HSE develops and implements a robust research framework for the systematic measurement of current asbestos exposures in non-domestic buildings, using a range of measurement and sampling techniques and informed by international experiences and approaches. It should ensure that adequate consideration is given to exposure measurement in schools and other public buildings. Recommend that HSE publishes its framework by October 2022 and produces findings at frequent intervals thereafter.
A strategic approach to asbestos management
Even though the use of asbestos has been banned since 1999, the HSE stated at the inquiry meeting in February 2022 that “at least 300,000 business premises” still contained asbestos.
· The Committee recommend that a deadline now be set for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings, within 40 years. The Government and HSE should develop and publish a strategic plan to achieve this, focusing on removing the highest risk asbestos first, and the early removal from the highest risk settings including schools. This plan should, in the first instance, commit to improving urgently the evidence around safer asbestos removal and disposal, considering relative costs and benefits. It should integrate with—and take full account of—proposals for the upgrading of the built environment linked to net zero targets and wider waste management strategies
· The Committee recommend HSE work with others in the UK and devolved governments to continue to review and share the evidence relating to routine, environmental, air monitoring of asbestos fibres. HSE were asked to write to the Committee in 12 months’ time with an update on Government’s latest assessment of these developments.
· The Committee recommend that HSE strengthens its work with, and guidance to, duty holders to make clear their obligations to communicate asbestos information and risks to building contractors and users. It was also recommended that HSE works with others in government to sponsor improvements in how information on asbestos in buildings is communicated and used, drawing on lessons from the use of digital technologies in building management and in the health response to the pandemic.
· The Committee recommend that HSE works with others in government to develop a central digital register of asbestos in non-domestic buildings, describing its location and type. In the first instance, the concept of a central register could be tested using asbestos data from public buildings such as schools and hospitals. In the meantime, it is recommended that HSE conducts research which complements its inspection programme to identify the extent to which duty holders are, in fact, complying with their obligations under the asbestos regulations.
Regulating the asbestos industry
The five-yearly statutory review of the asbestos regulations is the time to assess whether the regulatory framework, and HSE’s contribution to this, is working as effectively as it might. Therefore, the Committee has recommended that HSE and Government use the conclusions and recommendations from their report to inform both its immediate post implementation review of the asbestos regulations and its longer-term approach to asbestos management.
· The Committee recommend that HSE considers how it could consolidate, tighten, and simplify the current categorisation of asbestos works as part of its 2022 statutory review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations. Its review should carefully assess the net behavioural impacts and costs of any changes.
· The committee recommend that HSE makes it mandatory for all people conducting asbestos surveys to be accredited by a recognised accreditation body. It was also recommended that HSE assesses the impact of making it a legal requirement for building owners or occupiers to commission accredited asbestos analysts to check asbestos work done on their premises and, by extension, making it illegal for asbestos removal contractors to do so.
· The committee recommend HSE ensures its current review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations includes a thorough written assessment of moves towards more stringent asbestos occupational exposure limits in Europe. It should carefully consider their application to the GB context, taking full account of costs and benefits. It should ensure that the extent of the asbestos legacy in Great Britain is not seen as reason to tolerate poorer health standards.
HSE’s enforcement and campaigning
· The Committee recommend that HSE commits to a sustained increase in inspection and enforcement activity targeting compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations. Repeating our recommendation from June 2020, the Government and DWP should ensure that it provides adequate funding to HSE to support this increased programme of work over the medium term. HSE should also identify wider lessons from its planned inspection programme for duty holders in 2022/23, considering whether it needs to specify minimum knowledge, training or other requirements for people performing this critical role.
· HSE should commit to investing more in sustained campaigning work across a range of media, using multiple interventions and synchronising with the development of its wider strategy for asbestos management. It should employ robust evaluation methods to test what messages and which methods achieve the greatest impact on the behaviours of duty holders and tradespeople.
The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee report can be read in full here