Report published by Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee on HSE’s approach to asbestos management which includes the recommendation to make it mandatory for all people conducting asbestos surveys to be accredited by a recognised accreditation body.

It was also recommended that HSE assesses the impact of making it a legal requirement for building owners or occupiers to commission accredited asbestos analysts to check asbestos work done on their premises and, by extension, making it illegal for asbestos removal contractors to do so.

“Setting a clear deadline of 40 years for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings will help to focus minds. The clock is ticking and the Government and HSE must now come up with a strategic plan which builds the evidence on safer removal and prioritises higher risk settings such as schools.”

– Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee

With asbestos still in around 300,000 non-domestic buildings and a likely dramatic increase in disturbance from net zero retrofitting, the Committee says that reliance on the current asbestos regulations will not be good enough. It concludes that a cross-government and ‘system-wide’ strategy for the long-term removal of asbestos is needed.

The report calls for the Government and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to back up their stated goal of removing all asbestos by committing to a clear time frame and strategy. The plan should strengthen the evidence base on safe and effective asbestos removal in the first instance before prioritising removal from the highest risk settings, including schools.

The Government must also ensure adequate funding for HSE’s inspection and enforcement of the current asbestos regulations, which has declined in recent years.

Main findings and recommendations

The asbestos risk today

  • While there is evidence that the extreme exposures of the 20th century are behind us, HSE is not doing enough to assess current levels of risk in non-domestic buildings. The Committee heard accounts of recent exposures in the workplace and beyond. HSE should adopt a more structured approach to collecting data on current exposure levels.

A strategic approach to asbestos management

  • HSE has been slow to invest in research into the costs and benefits of removal, and to evaluate options for its safe removal.
  • A deadline should now be set for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings within 40 years. A new strategic plan should focus on the highest risk asbestos first and the highest risk settings including schools.
  • This plan should, in the first instance, commit to improving urgently the evidence around safer asbestos removal and disposal, considering relative costs and benefits.

HSE’s enforcement and campaigning

  • HSE issued 60% fewer asbestos enforcement notices annually between 2011/12 and 2018/19. The scale of decline is remarkable when compared with HSE’s enforcement activity overall, despite no specific and compelling evidence that compliance with the asbestos regulations has improved dramatically during this time.
  • HSE should commit to a sustained increase in inspection and enforcement activity. The Committee repeats its recommendation from June 2020, that the Government should ensure adequate funding for this increased programme of work.