A call by the UK union federation TUC for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings has been backed by MPs. The report of a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into asbestos management cites TUC calls for an explicit asbestos removal plan.
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. And Britain has the highest rates of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in the world.
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.
The 21 April 2022 report from 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.
The TUC says current asbestos management is not fit for purpose and has long called for new legislation requiring removal of all asbestos from public buildings.
The report from MPs calls for a 40-year deadline to remove all asbestos from public and commercial buildings. The TUC welcomes the news but says a 40-year deadline is not ambitious enough.
The report also calls for more funding for the HSE to support this increased programme of work.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone should be safe at work. But 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.”
But O’Grady added “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.”
The Select Committee also called on the UK government to develop a central, digital asbestos register, containing information on asbestos in schools and hospitals as well as other public buildings.
Public service union UNISON submitted written evidence to the committee as a member of the joint unions asbestos committee, which has called for the removal of asbestos in schools to be prioritised.
UNISON national officer for health and safety Kim Sunley said: “Many of our members are living with the legacy of previous asbestos exposures and the devastation a diagnosis of mesothelioma can bring.
“The government must act now with a strategy to protect workers and future generations from this preventable cancer.”
- House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee news release, report summary and full report. CWU branch briefing. NAHT news release. UNISON news release. HSE asbestos disease statistics.