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What are my responsibilities as an employer regarding asbestos?

Nov 3, 2017

Despite the abolishment of using asbestos in buildings almost 20 years ago, there are still over 2,000 deaths a year caused by exposure to the material.  These are mainly due to lung cancer and mesothelioma, which can take years to develop following the initial exposure.  Deborah Foundling, Industrial Disease Solicitor, explains here why employers need to be considering asbestos in their workplace and what their responsibilities are for the monitoring, maintenance and potential removal of the material.

Asbestos license and removal

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, employers who anticipate that their employees will come into contact with asbestos are required to hold a license which demonstrates that they are meeting minimum requirements in the ongoing monitoring of the material.  “There are certain industries were this will be most prevalent, including construction, dockyards, plumbing, electricians and those in the asbestos removal industry,” begins Deborah.  “Asbestos only causes a danger when it is disturbed as it is the particles that enter the body and can cause asbestos related illnesses, including mesothelioma.”

If asbestos is discovered and it poses a risk to employees, it is important it is not moved without the consultation of qualified specialists.  A full risk assessment must be carried out by the employer to ascertain the types of asbestos that are present, the likelihood of exposure, the risks posed to the employees and what methods can be taken to reduce the risk in the short term.  Once this risk assessment has been completed, only then will an employer be able to assess the severity of the risk, and can either look to leave the material as it is but with regular monitoring, or whether it should be removed.  A risk assessment should also highlight to the employer whether any PPE equipment is required to be worn by the employees.

Asbestos training for employees

All employers whose employees are at risk of exposure to asbestos should ensure their workforce is adequately trained in understanding:

  • the dangers surrounding asbestos exposure
  • spotting the signs of any disturbance with the material
  • how they themselves could cause a disturbance in their role
  • steps they can take to reduce this possibility
  • regulations the employer needs to meet. 

“Staff should be given a copy of the risk assessment done by the employer, along with a detailed plan of what to do should the risk of exposure be increased,” continues Deborah.  “Training of this nature is not a legal requirement, but it is recommended employers invest the time and money in alerting their employees for their own safety as well as their families, as over recent years there has been a stark increase in the number of mesothelioma cases caused by secondary exposure to asbestos.”

Employers have a duty of care towards the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and exposure to asbestos forms a vital part of this duty of care.  “Unfortunately we are not likely to see a reduction in the number of people dying from mesothelioma until the end of this decade when we are expected to see it decline,” concludes Deborah.  “Symptoms of mesothelioma can take between 20 to 40 years to develop but employers should not put off their responsibilities.  Compensation claims against employers are a reality in this field as victims seek financial support towards their medical and home expenses, and seek help from the experts in the field of respiratory and medicine palliative care.  Employers therefore should consider carefully the potential implications caused by a breach of their duty of care in terms of financial consequences and damage to their reputation that could be caused in the future.”

If you have questions about your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to asbestos, or you are concerned you have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace, you can contact Deborah or the Industrial Disease Team on 0800 91 92 30 or email injuryteam@warnergoodman.co.uk.   

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.