MPs HAVE BACKED CALLS from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has published a report from its inquiry into asbestos management, in which it cites TUC calls for stronger action on asbestos removal.

Asbestos remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with 5,000 deaths recorded in 2019. Britain has the highest rates of mesothelioma cases in the world.

Asbestos is classed as carcinogenic, which means it can cause cancer and other serious lung conditions when fibres are inhaled.  According to figures from the HSE asbestos is still found in around 300,000 non-domestic buildings despite a ban on the use of the substance in new buildings in 1999.

Committee report  

The new report by MPs cites concerns that the likely dramatic increase in retrofitting of buildings in response to net zero ambitions means that more asbestos-containing material will be disturbed in the coming decades. It also highlights the fact that HSE issued 60 per cent fewer asbestos enforcement notices annually between 2011/12 and 2018/19, despite no specific and compelling evidence that compliance with the asbestos regulations has improved dramatically during this time.

In the report, MPs call for a 40-year deadline to remove all asbestos from public and commercial buildings, and for more funding for the HSE to support this increased programme of work. The TUC says this 40-year deadline is not ambitious enough.

Asbestos dangers 

There is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibres – inhalation of even small quantities can lead to mesothelioma decades after exposure. This means that where asbestos is still present, it is not safe to assume there will be no disturbances that put people in danger.

The only way to eradicate mesothelioma in Britain, says the TUC, is with a legal duty to safely remove asbestos, and a clear timetable for its eradication.

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Everyone should be safe at work. Asbestos exposure at work continues to cause thousands of deaths every year. Asbestos is still with us in workplaces and public buildings across the country. As a result, more than 22 years after the use of asbestos was banned, hundreds of thousands of workers are still put at risk of exposure every day.

“The only way to protect today’s workers and future generations is through the safe removal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings.

“Today’s report by MPs is welcome, but a 40-year deadline isn’t ambitious enough: hundreds of thousands of workers risk dangerous exposure in that time. Ministers must commit to removing all asbestos to keep future generations safe.”

* Read the report from the Work and Pensions Committee here.

* Sources: Trades Union Congress and Work and Pensions Committee