1. Overview

Asbestos is the greatest cause of work-related deaths in Great Britain. Around 5,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases which typically take decades to develop and cannot be cured.

It is made up of tiny, invisible fibres that can be breathed in or rest on your clothes.

Asbestos was used in many industries and buildings until it was banned in 1999. However, while asbestos continues to be safely removed, much of this material is still in place.

This means people who work in older buildings could still be exposed to asbestos fibres today if asbestos is not managed effectively, and is damaged or disturbed.

Buildings constructed after 2000 are unlikely to contain asbestos.

Who this guidance is for and what it covers

This guidance is for:

  • building owners and landlords
  • those maintaining or repairing buildings
  • employers of anyone likely to disturb asbestos
  • workers
  • asbestos surveyors and analysts
  • licensed contractors

The guidance summarises what you should do to comply with the law, including:

  • actions to take depending on your job role
  • identifying if asbestos is present and its condition
  • assessing the risks and putting the right controls in place
  • providing the right training, instruction and information to anyone who might disturb asbestos
  • understanding when a licensed contractor must do the work

If you’re self-employed

If you are self-employed you have the same responsibilities under the law as an employer and a worker.

Types of work more likely to disturb asbestos

When people work on the structure of a building, they are more likely to come across asbestos. Activities that could disturb asbestos and put them at greater risk can include:

  • drilling into a wall
  • refurbishment or retrofitting
  • demolition
  • installation, for example of smart meters

People working in certain trades are more likely to come across asbestos, particularly if they work on buildings which date from before 2000.

When asbestos is in good condition and not disturbed the risk of exposure is extremely low.

Our worker’s guide to asbestos safety explains how they and their employers can avoid putting themselves or others at risk.

Workers in buildings containing asbestos

If your job is unlikely to disturb asbestos but you work in a building that contains it, there will only be a risk to your health when fibres are released into the air and breathed in.

Workers most at risk of exposure are those who may disturb the fabric of buildings, for example people doing refurbishment work. This also includes those carrying out routine building maintenance, for example as a caretaker.

Those who have the duty to manage asbestos in your building are responsible for your safety. Where asbestos-containing materials are in good condition and not likely to be damaged they should be left in place and the risk managed.

However, where asbestos is in poor condition or likely to be damaged during the normal use of the building, and can’t be safely repaired or enclosed, it should be removed.

Anyone who works in a building where asbestos is known or presumed present, such as a teacher, must be:

  • informed about the specific locations of asbestos-containing materials in the rooms or areas they use
  • told not to disturb them and what to do in the event of accidental damage

This will form part of the asbestos management plan for the premises.

We have guidance explaining who has the duty to protect workers from asbestos in public buildings including schools.

Members of the public and homeowners

Contractors carrying out work in your home have a legal duty to protect you from any risks to your health due to their activities. This includes risks from asbestos-containing materials.

In owner-occupied domestic properties, homeowners are not engaged in work activity so are not legally responsible for risks to contractors.

HSE has general advice for members of the public that includes doing DIY in their own home.

There is also information on asbestos and its disposal on GOV.UK.

The legal duty to manage asbestos in buildings

The duty to manage asbestos in buildings covers:

  • all non-domestic premises, like factories or shops
  • 'common parts' of multi-occupancy domestic premises, like purpose-built flats

Dutyholders must protect people from the risks of exposure to asbestos and there is more detailed guidance on this duty to manage asbestos in buildings, which includes:

  • what the legal duty is
  • who the dutyholder is, depending on the type of building etc
  • what the dutyholder must do

The Approved Code of Practice: Managing and working with asbestos will help dutyholders comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations.

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