A report into asbestos in UK buildings by the Asbestos and Testing Consultancy Association (ATaC) and National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC) was launched in parliament yesterday (n.b. 21st November 2022).
This report is an industry response to the recent inquiry into asbestos management in the UK by the Work and Pensions Committee, instigated by the findings of the Airtight on Asbestos Campaign, which found that little evidence exists about the current extent and condition of asbestos in UK buildings.
ATaC and NORAC have analysed a large sample of asbestos survey data (over one million lines of data). The findings indicate that over 70% of all asbestos materials have some level of damage and that 30% of these are in the highest risk category requiring remediation or removal.
The report highlights that the HSE's policies for managing asbestos 'in-situ' are failing. It also highlights the ability of existing data to help assess the condition of asbestos in buildings, as part of a national plan for management and phased removal. The development of a national database was one of a number of measures called for by the Work & Pensions Committee but dismissed by both the HSE in its submissions and by the Government in its response to the Committee.
Rt Hon Sir Stephen Timms MP (Work & Pensions Committee chairman) stated:
'I welcome the ATaC/NORAC report, showing that a large amount of data is readily available. With further development, it could form the basis of a national database, supporting safe management of asbestos, and helping to prioritise buildings for phased removal. I hope Ministers will rethink their opposition to a database'
The report is welcomed by the campaign group Airtight on Asbestos, which has long argued for a proactive programme of phased asbestos removal.
Says Airtight on Asbestos founder, Charles Pickles:
‘These findings by ATAC and NORAC show just how patchy the current regulatory regime for managing asbestos is. For years, the HSE has said that removal is far more dangerous than management in situ, and that a national database for monitoring the location and condition of the substance would be too difficult to implement. In short, the policy has been to sit back and do nothing while buildings decay and become more hazardous for occupants. Now the data is in: either we act to remove the threat, or we ignore it and watch as the crisis deepens.’
Says Head of Health and Safety at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, Ruth Wilkinson:
“Asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational cancer, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives a year worldwide. It remains a global challenge to both occupational and public health, and simply must be addressed. Sadly, as a result of this unmanaged situation, many people, and workers in particular, will continue to become seriously ill and die prematurely”.
John Richards, Spokesperson for Asbestos Testing and Consultancy (ATAC) and the National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC), stated:
‘We understand why the Government has chosen to reject calls for a national database in addition to mandatory accreditation for asbestos surveyors as this would highlight the full extent of the problem facing the UK, one which has been ignored for decades. The Government responded positively following the 74 deaths that tragically occurred at Grenfell Tower with the establishment of a dedicated regulator, yet with almost 100 deaths occurring weekly as a result of past asbestos exposure and little understanding on the long term consequences of low level exposure, the Government chooses to ignore the recommendations of the Works and Pensions committee.’
Airtight on Asbestos’s Charles Pickles says that ATAC/NORAC’s new findings compel the Government/HSE to act:
‘In light of this new data, Airtight on Asbestos is renewing its call for the HSE to implement a national asbestos database, which can then be used as a base to drive a programme of phased removal. Doing so would take the UK one step closer to safe, asbestos-free public buildings – and could potentially save thousands of lives in the future. The time to act is now’.
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