HSE concludes asbestos regulations are ‘fit for purpose’

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has concluded that the regulation of asbestos in Great Britain is fit for purpose and needs little change.

Published on 15th March, the HSE’s post-implementation review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 concluded that the rules will have saved more than 50,000 lives over the next hundred years, either from lung cancer or mesothelioma.

The regulations transposed a 2009 EU directive on the protection of workers from asbestos, introducing a new category of ‘notifiable’ work with the mineral, intended to control exposure by builders and other tradespeople. They also made minor amendments to previous regulations from 2006, answering criticism from the European Commission that these unduly widened an exemption from certain duties for low-risk activities.

Following the review the government believes that there is no pressing need to amend the regulations as they concluded that they have met their aims and achieved ‘a high level of compliance’.

The decision from the government not to amend the regulations comes despite the HSE’s business plan stating that it would make a significant contribution to the government’s deregulatory agenda in 2016/17 and their admission that the regime could be improved.

Although this is the case, the HSE has admitted that the regime can be improved largely through the revision of guidance. For example, there is scope for greater clarity between the three categories of work with asbestos: licensable (high-risk and large-scale, such as demolitions), notifiable and exempt (lowest risk, which does not need to be notified to the relevant authority).

Following the review there is only one specific change proposed to the regulations themselves, although this will not be enacted immediately. The proposed change would alter the time scale of medical examinations for people undertaking licensed work. Currently people undertaking licensed work must have a medical examination every two years but medical evidence suggests that this time period does not offer any real benefit, as asbestos-related diseases progress slowly. Therefore the proposed change would require a medical examination every three years, in-line with the EU Directive.

The HSE is planning to consult on the frequency of these exams, although the review does not specify when.

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