Calls for evidence as enquiry launched on dangers of workplace asbestos
An inquiry has been called into the current risks of asbestos, following a high volume of fatalities linked to the material.
Parliament’s work and pensions committee are to look into how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) manages the presence of asbestos in buildings and is calling for evidence on the subject.
The issue is the subject of an internal review by the HSE, which was revealed by minister for employment Mims Davies after the committee raised concerns about the issue last year. That followed the publication of a report by think tank Respublica on the presence of asbestos in buildings across the UK. The report found that there were six million tonnes of asbestos in 1.5 million buildings, and criticised the methods in the UK to measure the level of airborne asbestos, describing them as much less effective than that of other European countries.
Despite a ban on importing, supplying, and using asbestos in the UK being in place since 1999, the once widespread building material remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths here, including among many former construction workers. There are around 5,000 reported work-related deaths from illnesses linked to asbestos every year, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) head of health and safety Ruth Wilkinson said: “It is vital that policy-makers and organisations worldwide manage asbestos risks more responsibly and stop people being exposed to this potentially fatal work-related health hazard.”
She stressed that, if kept in good condition, asbestos is not necessarily dangerous. “There are some simple steps which can be taken to ensure asbestos doesn’t become a danger and cause terminal illnesses which devastate families. It is unacceptable for anyone in any workplace to be exposed to asbestos. However, we know that it is still happening, with a lack of awareness, uncertainty, and ignorance surrounding how to manage it. Because of this, we welcome the inquiry set up by the work and pensions committee into the issue”.
A statement from the committee said its inquiry will examine the current risks posed by asbestos in the workplace, the actions taken by the HSE to mitigate them, and how its approach compares to that of other countries. The results will feed into the HSE’s own review. The deadline to submit the evidence is 17 September. Those wishing to contribute can do so here.
The UK Asbestos Training (UKATA) warned in September last year that a dramatic fall in training for the treatment of asbestos, coupled with building maintenance declining due to lockdown closures, could lead to an increase in deaths from asbestos in the coming years.