In Great Britain there are around 5000 cancer deaths a year attributed to asbestos, mainly due to past industrial exposures. The import and use of all types of asbestos was banned by 1999. However, asbestos can be present in any building built or refurbished before 2000 and continues to be removed as part of ongoing risk management. Higher-risk removal work can only be undertaken by HSE licensed contractors. Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, exposure must be prevented or effectively controlled.
The aim of this research was to provide information on asbestos exposures to licensed removal workers in Great Britain and to assess compliance of work practices with HSE guidance. HSE scientists visited eight removal sites during 2016 to 2019. Removals included asbestos insulating board (AIB), insulation and sprayed coating. The researchers monitored airborne fibre concentrations using samplers and observed work practices.
The removal contractors and workers participated on a voluntary basis. The findings are therefore likely to indicate exposure levels and working practices for contractors and workers undertaking licensed asbestos removal who are attempting to adopt good practice. The findings are not intended to be representative of the removals industry as a whole.
There are three main research findings:
- asbestos fibres were present in the airborne fibres samples;
- some airborne fibre concentrations measured in the study were above the limit;
- there is scope for further exposure reduction, for example by ensuring that workers wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) during set up and dismantling of the enclosure used for removal activities.
These findings are being used to inform HSE communication with stakeholders and updates to HSE guidance.