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New asbestos regulations came into force this month that could affect thousands of tradespeople across the UK.

Changes to the Control of Asbestos Regulations came into force on 6 April 2012, designed to bring UK legislation in line with the minimum standards of the EU Asbestos Worker Protection Directive. This came after the European Commission ruled that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive.

Before 6 April, work on asbestos was split into two separate categories: non-licensable work, and licensed work. The latest changes affect the non-licensed category, which specialist environmental support services group Silverdell said affects up to 1.8 million workers in the UK every year.

Non-licensed work will now be split into two, with the additional category called 'Notifiable Non-Licensable Work' (NNLW). Work on asbestos that falls into this new category will now need to be notified to the relevant authority, with brief records kept of the work.

These records must include a copy of the notification with a list of the workers involved, as well as the likely exposure of those workers to asbestos, and must be kept for 40 years. If a company ceases trading in that time, the records must be offered to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for safe keeping. Air monitoring will not be required on every job, so long as an estimate of degree of exposure can be made based on the experience of similar past tasks, or on published guidance.

The legislation also now states that, by April 2015, all workers, including those who are self-employed, who are carrying out notifiable non-licensable work must be under health surveillance by a doctor.

Whether or not asbestos work falls under the non-licensable or notifiable non-licensable category will depend on factors including the type of work being carried out; the type of asbestos involved; and the condition of the material.

Examples of work that will fall under the new category (assuming exposure is sporadic and low intensity) include:

  1. Minor, short duration, maintenance work involving asbestos insulation, e.g. repairing minor damage to a small section of pipe insulation where the exterior coating has been broken or damaged
  2. Minor removal work involving AIB, when short duration and as part of a refurbishment project, eg removing AIB panels fixed with screws following water damage
  3. Entry into the roof space above an AIB tiled ceiling, when no decontamination or cleaning has taken place
  4. Removal work involving textured decorative coatings where the method of removal requires deterioration of the material, eg where the material is treated by steam, hydrating gel etc and scraped off the underlying surface, or where it is very badly flood-damaged
  5. Removal of asbestos paper and cardboard products if not firmly bonded in a matrix
  6. Removal of asbestos cement (AC) which is substantially degraded eg badly fire-damaged or de-laminated material, or where substantial breakage is unavoidable to achieve removal.

Work that will normally continue to be categorised as non-licensed will include:

  1. Short, non-continuous maintenance work involving AIB which is in good condition, e.g. drilling holes in AIB to attach a fitting or pass through a cable or pipe, cleaning light fittings attached to AIB, removing a door with AIB fire-proofing, or lifting ceiling tiles for inspection where there is no full-body entry into the roof space
  2. Short, non-continuous maintenance work on asbestos cement (AC), eg work on weathered AC roof tiles
  3. Removal of AC, which is kept virtually intact
  4. Short, non-continuous maintenance work on textured decorative coatings, e.g. drilling holes, inserting screws or painting
  5. Small-scale maintenance work with textured decorative coatings when this can be achieved without deterioration of the material, eg by careful cutting around backing sheets to achieve removal intact
  6. Removal, for example, of gaskets or asbestos rope cords from heating appliances, which can be left in situ for disposal or can be lifted out virtually intact, without substantial breakage
  7. Short, non-continuous maintenance work on clutch discs, brakes, friction products etc unless significant damage is required eg by power tools
  8. Removal of floor tiles or bitumen felt, when done with the appropriate controls
  9. Work to enclose or seal asbestos materials that are in good condition (and that do not require a licence)
  10. Air monitoring and control, and the collection and analysis of samples.

Full details of the new asbestos legislation can be found online on the HSE's website.

More than 3,000 people in the UK die from asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma each year, and this figure is expected to rise every year until 2016. The British Supreme Court recently ruled that employers' insurance companies are liable to payout on asbestos cases, upholding an appeal from trade unions including Unite.

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