The Government has refused to commit to the recommendations of a comprehensive Work and Pensions Committee report which recommends the removal of all asbestos material from commercial and public buildings within the next 40 years.
The Work and Pensions Committee report made clear that shockingly, despite a ban on commercially used asbestos coming into effect in 1999, asbestos material remains a health hazard in 300,000 non-domestic buildings, including schools and hospitals.
In 2019 there were more than 5,000 asbestos related deaths, including from aggressive asbestos related cancers such as mesothelioma. Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and this appalling trend shows no sign of abating.
Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and while the extreme exposures of the late twentieth century are now behind us, the risk from asbestos remains real.”
The Work and Pensions Committee recommended to the Government the following measures be taken to ensure public safety:
- To put in place a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos material from all public buildings, including hospitals and schools in the UK;
- The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) create a plan to facilitate the removal of all asbestos from all public buildings and ensure the current asbestos regulations are effectively enforced;
- Creation of a detailed register that lists all buildings containing asbestos materials, with a priority on comprehensively registering asbestos material located in hospitals and schools. The register of buildings to contain details of asbestos type, quantity and risk factor to ensure risk to the public from asbestos materials is minimised.
It is well accepted that even small amounts of asbestos dust exposure can lead to aggressive asbestos related cancers which makes the Government’s rejection of the Work and Pensions Committee’s recommendations even more shocking.
The Government rejected the comprehensive findings of the Work and Pensions Committee stating that it already has a plan to manage the risks of asbestos exposure through the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and that a central register of buildings containing asbestos would lead to the duplication of existing information. The Government refused to commit to a 40-year deadline to remove asbestos from buildings on the basis, they say, a deadline would lead to inadequately controlled asbestos removal.
The Government’s blunt rejection of the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee is a lost opportunity for the Government after many decades of delay, to get on top of this country’s hideous asbestos legacy.
Asbestos remains a deadly risk to public health despite the ban on the use of asbestos coming into force in 1999. Many public buildings including hospitals and schools are riddled with asbestos material. There is no cure for many asbestos illnesses and the legacy of the wanton use of asbestos material in the UK remains with us all today.
Each day of Government inaction on legislating the compulsory registering and removal of asbestos material results in further preventable deaths. Rather than simply kicking the can down the road, action must be taken by the Government now.