For many decades the dangers of asbestos went largely unnoticed in the UK. Once the health-risks became known, legislative measures were gradually brought in to control it, until finally the use of this once sought-after mineral was banned completely in 1999.

Why was It Banned?

Asbestos was banned in the UK because of the increasing number of mesothelioma cases that were being diagnosed. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer – recovery is very unlikely.

Over 4,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases every year, making asbestos exposure one of the most significant occupational health risks in the UK today.

Since the 80s legislation has gradually been created to protect people from asbestos exposure.

Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations (1983)

In the first asbestos-related legislative move, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) passed legislation requiring contractors who worked with asbestos insulation to be licensed with them.

This is still in place today, with nearly all work involving asbestos being performed by a licensed professional, in accordance with codes of practice, and with a full pre-works plan submission to the HSE.

The asbestos (prohibitions) regulations (1985)

The asbestos prohibition laws in the 1980s banned the use and import of the two main types of asbestos in use – blue (crocidolite) and brown asbestos (amosite).

White asbestos (chrysotile) wasn’t banned until 1992.

Finally, in 1999, the UK banned all types of asbestos.

Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (1987)

Statutory control procedures didn’t surface until 1987 when the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations came into effect.

These regulations forced employers to:

  • Assess, identify, and prevent asbestos exposure
  • Notify appropriate authority of asbestos work
  • Provide information, instruction and training to employees
  • Provide protective clothing and washing facilities
  • Undertake air monitoring and implement and maintain appropriate control measures

They were introduced to create greater protection for employees in the workplace.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006

The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2006) act combines all of the above legislation into one single law, prohibiting the use, supply and importation of all asbestos.

This was done to dramatically reduce the use and disturbance of asbestos containing materials within UK workplaces.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

The 2006 regulations were updated only last year, by ‘the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012’. This updated version was designed to incorporate EU Directives on asbestos.

These regulations place legal duties on employers, company owners and those in control of buildings to manage the risks from any asbestos fibres that may be present.

The regulations require:

  • Carrying out of risk assessments
  • Checking whether there’s asbestos on premises, the amount and the condition.
  • Having up-to-date records of its location and condition.
  • Preparing and implementing a plan for material risk management.
  • Reviewing and monitoring the plan.
  • Presuming materials contain asbestos, unless there’s evidence it doesn’t.
  • Providing information on location and condition of the material to relevant parties.

You will generally need to consult a specialist when determining the presence of asbestos and attempting removal.

Other relevant legislation…

Through the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 it was enshrined in law that employers have a legal duty to prevent their employee’s exposure to asbestos.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, these duties were expanded, requiring employers to assess the risks to health and safety of their employees.

Asbestos is still present in many buildings throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Whether you’re an individual or a company, it’s imperative that you understand and follow the relevant asbestos regulations to prevent exposure to this highly dangerous substance.