Due to the prevalence of asbestos in the United Kingdom, thousands of people still need to come into contact with asbestos as part of their working life.
If an employer anticipates that their employee will come into contact with asbestos as part of their working role, the employer must take certain steps to protect the staff member. If the employer fails to meet their responsibilities towards their employees, then the employer may face criminal or civil sanctions. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 means that most employers who run the risk of coming into contact with asbestos must hold a license. This requires the employer to ensure that minimum standards are met to protect all at risk employees.
Employers who may need a license include those who employ people who may be subject to accidental exposure, such as; builders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and maintenance workers, as well
as employees whose sole purpose is to remove asbestos-containing materials.
Before any work is carried out, an employer should carry out a full risk assessment, including an asbestos survey. This risk assessment will seek to identify; the types of asbestos which may be present, the likelihood of exposure; any methods to reduce the risk of exposure; and any arrangements which can be made to monitor the level of exposure.
All employees who are being asked to work with asbestos should be given a copy of the work-plan and risk assessment. This should help the employee to maintain their own level of awareness about the anticipated risks. Any exposure which occurs outside of the work-plan and pre-prepared risk assessment should be noted by the employee and reported back to their employer as soon as possible.
Any employee who is likely to come into contact with asbestos products should be given full training and information about the potential risks of asbestos exposure. Training is normally organised into three different types; asbestos awareness, non-licensable works and licensable works with asbestos.
Asbestos awareness courses are design for those who may disturb asbestos as part of their role. The training aims to teach workers how to avoid disturbing asbestos which is in situ.
The course on non-licensable works is for people who will do low-level damage to asbestos-containing materials. This trains employees how to handle asbestos properly to reduce damage and exposure.
A course on licensable works with asbestos is for people who will do major works with high risk asbestos-containing materials. These works are licensed to help to protect members of the public from being accidentally exposed to asbestos fibres.
Employers may also send their employees on regular refresher courses to ensure that they maintain awareness about how to handle asbestos. Although there is no legal requirement for staff to undergo annual refresher courses, many employers believe that it is good practice to maintain employee skills and independent judgement. If you have not received this training from your employer, you may refuse to work in an asbestos-containing environment until you have been given the necessary training.
An employer may face sanctions if they have asked you to work in the above circumstances without providing adequate training.
When working with asbestos, the “control limit” is considered to be 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air. Employers must try to reduce exposure so that it is as far below this level as possible. 0.1 asbestos fibre per cubic centimetre is not considered to be a safe respiratory level, and exposure that is verging on this level should be reduced to a minimum.
All employees who are asked to work with asbestos-containing materials should keep a training record to show that they have received the training that they require. An employee can ask their employer for this training record at any time. The employer should also conduct a face fit test for all employees who are required to wear respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE) as part of their job.
This test is designed to make sure that the PPE that has been provided to the employee is a suitable fit to adequately protect the wearer.
Employees should not be asked to wear PPE that has been designed for other people. The results of any air tests, health checks and other monitoring surveys must be made available to individual employees upon request.
Property owners of non-domestic premises also have a duty of care to all those who use the building, including any employees who are based within the building. Part of this duty of care may include a statutory “duty to manage” any asbestos that can be found within the premises. Prolonged exposure to asbestos-containing materials in the fabric of a building can put employees at risk, so property owners must put a management plan in place to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.