Asbestos has been banned from use in buildings for more than 20 years, however its unwelcome legacy still lives on. Commonly used as a fire restraint and form of insulation up to being outlawed in 1999, asbestos is still taking the lives of thousands of UK residents every year.
The deadly legacy of asbestos – which is still the number one workplace-based cause of death in the UK – has led to intervention from MPs.
Government at odds with Work and Pensions Select Committee
Last year, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended a target for the removal of all asbestos from non-domestic buildings within 40 years. Committee chair Stephen Timms commented that asbestos-related deaths in the UK is “One of the great workplace tragedies of modern times.”
The government believes differently and have rejected the committee’s recommendations, believing that asbestos is safe as long as it remains undisturbed. Trade unions have countered the government’s stance, claiming that they are putting lives at risk.
Health and safety policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, Sally Asquith, has said: “The government’s current policy is that asbestos is safe if it’s left in situ, and not disturbed.”
“But we would say, asbestos will always be disturbed, especially if it’s in buildings like schools where you’ve got children running around, that are falling apart – lots of schools are left at risk currently. It needs to be removed.”
MPs call for asbestos register and timetabled removal
Conservative MP Jane Hunt chaired a parliamentary debate on asbestos in the workplace, commenting to the media: “First of all I’d like a register of all types of buildings throughout the UK that have asbestos.
“And then the second thing – let’s set a timetable to get rid of this stuff out of homes and out of businesses and out of public buildings across the whole country.”
Sky News contacted the Department for Work and Pensions for comment who referred the media outlet to the HSE, which said: “Most people with asbestos-related illnesses will have been exposed before stringent regulations were introduced in 1999.”
“The risk of asbestos exposure is low, as long as it remains undisturbed in a good condition and the regulations are followed.
“A rush to remove all asbestos from buildings would pose more risk than managing it safely or removing it during planned construction work. The current approach works towards removal from all buildings in a safe, staged way.”
The HSE is raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos to young tradespeople
The HSE isn’t silent on the dangers of asbestos, with a particular focus on educating younger tradespeople of the dangers asbestos exposure can cause.
They warn that Millennials, Gen Z workers and other younger people who work as plumbers, electricians, and in other trades need to take the risk of asbestos much more seriously.
A campaign, Asbestos and You, has been launched to target all tradespeople with a focus on younger workers in trades such as plastering and joinery. The HSE wants to reach construction workers who started their careers after the use of asbestos was banned in 1999.