Asbestos and the role of H&S representatives in the workplace

In 2016, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 people are likely to die prematurely as a result of asbestos exposure – this is according to a recent TUC report. This figure alone confirms that asbestos is the biggest cause of deaths in the workplace. The IATP continue to highlight the dangers of working with or coming into contact with asbestos. This article will assess the role of health and safety professionals and what their duties are when it comes to managing asbestos in their buildings.


Every year, more than 2,500 people die in the UK, with a similar number estimated to have died from asbestos-related lung cancer (mesothelioma) and asbestosis. Asbestos is responsible for 3 times as many deaths as road traffic accidents each year. Asbestos is present in various different forms; and as a result of this, it can be found in factories, homes, schools, shops, hospitals, offices, restaurants etc.

What should health and safety representatives be doing about asbestos?

The most critical step, is to find out whether asbestos is present in your workplace. If you do not know, ask your employer for a copy of the asbestos register for your workplace. You have a legal right, as a health and safety representative to see the results of any inspection or survey that has been carried out. It is important that an asbestos management plan is in place.
If a survey has been carried out and completed, it is important that it has covered all parts of the building and all buildings that staff or contractors are ever likely to access.

If asbestos is discovered, then there has to be an Asbestos Management Plan to manage it in the interim. That can include regular inspections and procedures to ensure that contractors, maintenance workers and anyone else who may have to work near the asbestos is made aware of its presence.

The Management Plan will also detail the various types of training that is required, which members of staff need which levels of training and who is to provide it. The Plan will also detail the ‘Permit to Work’ Scheme and detail the Monitoring and Reviewing of Asbestos Surveyz and the Management Plans.

Staff must be trained!

Line managers need to know about the procedures, so do those who are responsible for contractors. In addition, anyone who works in the building should be told that asbestos is present and informed of the dangers. Different members of staff will require different levels of training. Maintenance staff, who have to work in and around ACMs as part of their duties, will need more training than non-maintenance staff. The non-maintenance staff, particularly those that will witness any asbestos removal.

If any worker is exposed to asbestos, then the employer needs to keep a health record and provide medical surveillance. Furthermore, anyone who suspects that they have been exposed can consult their GP and ask for a note to be made in their personal record about the possible exposure, including date(s), duration, type of asbestos and likely exposure levels (if known).

In some circumstances, a failure to control exposure can be a ‘dangerous occurrence’ under RIDDOR and may need reporting to HSE. There is no place for complacency. It is not only your employees that are risk, it is anyone who enters the premises, or who in years to come has to work on refurbishing or demolishing the building. Remember that your workplace could be one of those that the HSE estimates puts 1.3 million tradespeople at risk from asbestos. By ensuring that it is safely removed and disposed of, we can protect anyone working in the building in the future.

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