Frequently asked questions -

Asbestos refers to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Asbestos has six primary sub-classifications: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Among these, chrysotile and amositeasbestos are the most common.

Although asbestos fibers are microscopic in nature, they are extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos were the reasons that supported its use for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial capacities.

The strength of asbestos, combined with its resistance to heat, allowed it to become the material of choice in a variety of products, including, but not limited to, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products, and automotive parts. Asbestos is now strictly regulated as exposure to this toxic mineral can now be directly and scientifically linked to a number of lung and respiratory health conditions.

The use of asbestos sharply declined in the late 1970s when it became evident that asbestos posed a threat to human health and safety. Today, asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen.

The property of durability—which made asbestos so desirable to manufacturers—is that which makes asbestos hazardous.

Asbestos fibers are microscopic (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair), and therefore, are easily inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibers cling to the respiratory system, including the lining of the lungs and inner cavity tissue. As asbestos fibers are typically quite rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken-down by the body.

Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to asbestos in some capacity as a result of the mineral’s extensive use in domestic, commercial, and industrial products. There is no safe type of asbestos and no safe level of exposure. Nearly all those with exposure history are potentially at risk of serious respiratory health complications.

There are a number of products that have historically contained asbestos.  Producing a comprehesive list is not easy.

The Health and Safety Executive list the folloiing products

This is not an exhaustive list.

Material Type
3-inch corrugated asbestos cement (AC) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
6-inch corrugated AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Artex white asbestos
Asbestolux blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Asbestos blanket white asbestos
Asbestos caulking blue asbestos used until 1970, then white
Asbestos cement white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Asbestos cloth any type used until 1965, then white asbestos
Asbestos felt white asbestos
Asbestos gasket blue and white asbestos
Asbestos gauntlet/glove any type used until 1965, then white asbestos
Asbestos insulating board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Asbestos paper white asbestos
Asbestos rope blue asbestos used until 1970, then white
Asbestos string white asbestos
Asbestos tape white asbestos
Asbestos tile white asbestos
Asbestos wallboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Bigsix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Bitumen adhesive white asbestos
Bitumen mastic white asbestos
Brake, clutch composite white asbestos
CAF or CAF-IT gaskets blue and white asbestos
Canada tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Caposil brown asbestos
Caposite brown asbestos
Cavity decking white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Colourglaze white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Combined sheet white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Composites, reinforced white asbestos, occasionally brown
Damp-proof course paper white asbestos
Damp-proof course sealant white asbestos
Diamond AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Doublesix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Drive belt white asbestos
Durasteel laminate white asbestos
Eflex white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Emalie white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Eternit slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Everite (moulded product) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Everite slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Ferroasbestos white asbestos, occasionally brown
Floor tile - thermoplastic white asbestos
Flooring - PVC white asbestos
Fort white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Friction product white asbestos
Galbestos white asbestos
Glasal AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Glen six white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Insulating board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
JM slate white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Klingerit blue and white asbestos
LDR blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Limpet blue asbestos mixtures used until 1971, then brown and white
Lion jointing blue and white asbestos
Magnesium oxychloride flooring white asbestos
Major tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Marblecoat white asbestos
Marinite blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Millboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then white
Monad white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Newtex white asbestos
Novilon white asbestos
Novilon flooring white asbestos
Panel sheet white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Partition board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Pax-felt white asbestos
Pebblecoat white asbestos
Permanite blue and white asbestos
Poilite white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Promenade tiles white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
PVC reinforced white asbestos
Rock wool Not asbestos material but may contain traces of asbestos contamination
Roofing felt (Some) white asbestos
Sealant dpc white asbestos
Serval white asbestos
Serval asbestos flooring white asbestos
Shipboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Siluminite white asbestos, occasionally brown
Sindanyo white asbestos, occasionally brown
Speakers slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Spray coating blue asbestos mixtures used until 1971, then brown and white
Storage heaters Some storage heaters contain asbestos
Supalux not asbestos material but may contain traces of asbestos contamination
Supersix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Suretex white asbestos
Thrutone white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Trafford tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Troughsec white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnall (moulded product) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnall slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnasbestos blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Turners slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Twin twelve white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Viceroy foiled paper white asbestos
Vinyl asbestos tile white asbestos
Wall board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Weatherall white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Wondertex white asbestos
  • White asbestos: chrysotile, serpentine
  • Brown asbestos: amosite, amphibole
  • Blue asbestos: crocidolite, amphibole

Training

The current Regulations place a legal duty on employers to provide information, instruction and training to any of their employees who are likely to be exposed to asbestos as part of their work.
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/training.htm

Refresher training for licensable and non-licensable work should be given every year. This should be based on a training needs analysis.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment must be carried out before any work on asbestos begins

Protective Clothing

Yes, if an employee is liable to be exposed to asbestos, then employers should provide that employee with adequate personal protective clothing appropriate for the work that they will be doing. 
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/em6.pdf

Health screening

 All workers/self employed doing notifiable work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a Doctor. 

The right to report your employer

If your employer is not enforcing correct controls then you should report them.

Firstly you should check which enforcing authority you need to contact.

If the enforcing authority is HSE you can report your concern using the HSRE online form or by calling the HSE Concerns team: 0300 003 1647 during office hours 8.30am - 5.00pm Monday - Friday, Thursday 10.00am to 5.00pm.

People responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises, have a duty to manage the asbestos in them, and should provide you with information on where any asbestos is in the building and what condition it is in.

If no information is available or it is limited and you suspect asbestos may be present you should have the area surveyed and representative samples of the material you are going to work on analysed.
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/duty.htm

There is a very good chance that asbestos is present in most homes built between the 1950s and the early 1980s and can possibly be found in homes built before or after these dates. If it is in poor condition, gets damaged or releases fibres in any way, you and other residents are at risk. Anyone carrying out DIY on asbestos products is putting themselves at risk.

Asbestos has been used in all sorts of materials found in the home. The following list is not complete and should only be used as a rough guide:

  • Combined with different quantities of bonding agent, asbestos was used to lag the steel support framework in tower blocks and services such as heating pipes, electrical conduits and ventilation ducts.
  • In hard-board form it was used on the back of service intake doors, panels at the back of gas fires, bath panels, etc.
  • In plaster-board form it was used as wall board, especially where there are service ducts running behind.
  • It was used as a filler in textured ceiling and wall coverings like Artex, in linoleum floor tiles and artificial slate roofing.
  • It is found in some storage heaters, ironing boards, brake and clutch linings and garage roofs and walls.
  • It was combined with cement for use in corrugated roofing, pipework, etc.

You cannot determine whether a material contains asbestos by visual inspection, detection requires analysis which is a special skill and should only be done by qualified people.

For Birmingham Council tennants the City Council has a good guide to abestos in the home

When is Asbestos a Problem?

Asbestos is dangerous when fibres can be released. Even minor damage can produce many fibres, sometimes directly in the area of breathing (drilling a hole, for example).

Damage can also be done by wallpaper scrapers, rubbing down asbestos panels or Artex with sandpaper and removing asbestos panels to gain access to services.

Asbestos products can also be damaged accidentally if they are scraped, knocked or vandalised. Cutting asbestos with electrical tools and smashing asbestos products with a hammer are extremely dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.

Health and safety legislation does not require schools to inform parents about the presence of asbestos in their children’s school. Some schools do provide parents with information to assure them that effective management arrangements are in place.

The management arrangements at the school should prevent disturbance of asbestos containing materials – but if these arrangements fail and there is an accidental release of asbestos fibres, then it is important that those affected are informed.

HSE’s website includes simple guidance for those who may have been inadvertently exposed to asbestos.

If your employer is based in England, Scotland or Wales and you have a physical or mental disability which is liable to last at least a year, you can contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus to ask about the help available to pay towards reasonable adjustments that enable you to do the job properly.

You need to be over 16 and in paid work, starting a job trial, or self-employed.

If eligible, you will have an assessment with advice which your employer needs to build into the adjustments that are made.

National Access to Work number: 0845 2688489

For West Mids advice on disability issues, ring Disability Resource Centre on 0121 783 6017 or email drc@disability.co.uk

The standard UK time limit is 3 years to take up a compensation case for a personal injury claim through a solicitor.

If injured outside the UK, seek immediate advice as time limits may vary.

Effectively, you need to see a solicitor, or take up a claim through your trade union if you're a member, well before the 3 years are up, to give time for it to go to court if needed.

Do join a union before you need to ask them for legal help as most unions have a period of a few weeks or months that must elapse before union members can take up a claim through them.

That's 3 years from the date of an accident or from when you knew your injury or illness was caused by your work e.g. when told by a doctor that was the case. If not sure, do seek a free initial interview with a solicitor, as time limits are not always clear-cut.           

If someone has died, the family has 3 yrs from the date of death, or post mortem, to start a claim if it was not previously confirmed as caused by work,  or to continue an existing claim.

There are no time limits for claiming for an industrial disease through the no-fault Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB)  scheme, but the scheme does not cover every industrial disease or occupation known to cause industrial injuries.

Ring Birmingham Tribunal Unit on 0121 666 7533 or visit www.btu.org.uk for problems with IIDB and other welfare benefits. Some unions and some solicitors can also help their members or clients with these.

Not as such, despite previous campaigning for a law to cover it properly. However, there are some laws which may apply to a particular situation, such as the Prevention of Harassment Act (1977). There are more people included under equality laws than before, and harassment is unlawful for relevant members of groups protected by the Equality Act 2010.

However, looking for a legal solution is not the first step. If there is a trade union with which the employer negotiates in a workplace, taking this issue up with the union is the best starting point to resolve a bullying issue.  

The HSE provides provides some advice to employers on its website www.hse.gov, including: " Be aware of the organisational factors that are associated with bullying, and take steps to address them".  However, a high level of organisation against bullying is needed to tackle the issue in many workplaces. For example, in the NHS, it is said that there is a "climate of fear" against whistle-blowing and standing up for other rights. 

A. You have lots of legal rights. For example, under the Health and Safety at Work Act your employer must provide you with or ensure:

  • Safe plant and systems of work
  • Safe use, handling, transport and storage of substances and articles
  • Adequate information, training, instruction and supervision
  • Safe place of work, access and egress (exit) to and from it
  • A safe working environment with adequate welfare facilities
  • A written Safety Policy with organizational and other arrangements (if there are five or more employees)

No. Under the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations..."every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to their employees who may be exposed to risks to their health and safety except where it has been adequately or 

effectively controlled by other means.”

In other words the employer must provide you with suitable personal protective equipment. They should not be asking you to pay for it. If suitable safety shoes are the most effective way of protecting you, your employer should pay for them.

The organisation you can complain to depends on the type of workplace or industry you work in.

The two main enforcement agencies are the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environmental Health Department (EHO) of your local Council. 

There are others. For more information, go to www.hse.gov.uk

Making a complaint

To make a complaint to HSE about a health and safety risk, you can email cat@hse.gsi.gov.uk or call 0300 003 1647 in office hours.

The West Midlands HSE's phone no is 0121 607 6349, and the EHO is contacted via the local authority's Environmental Health Dept in your area.

However, The HSE and EHOs have seen cuts in terms of Government financial support over a long period of time, leading to job cuts and increasing the amount of time you may have to wait for a response.

Do emphasise, preferably in writing, that you do not want your name mentioned, if that is what you want.

The HSE website also explains how to make a complaint if you are not satisfied with their service.

Complaining via your union

Your best chances, however, of changing the way safety (or indeed, anything else) is handled in a workplace is through a trade union

So raise your question with your union rep first if you have one at work.

Join a TUC (Trades Union Congress) affiliated Trade Union and organising to make sure that your employer recognises it for collective bargaining at the workplace.

If you and your fellow workers join and persuade your management to recognise the Union, you can legally elect trade union safety reps at your workplace.

Then this triggers a further set of legal rights for the safety reps under the Safety Reps and Safety Committees Regulations including:

  • The right to take up safety and health issues on behalf of members
  • Paid time off for Health and Safety training
  • Attending a Safety Committee, which must be set up if two or more safety reps request it
  • Consultation on H&S matters, including proposed changes
  • Enough facilities and help from the employer to do the job properly

Note too that safety reps don't have legal duties and therefore have no more legal liability than any other employee for safety breaches. It's the employer who has the legal duties for your health and safety.

 

A TUC report says that the 150,000 trade union safety representatives make a real difference, because trade union involvement:

  • Helps reduce injuries at work
  • Leads to reductions in the levels of ill-health caused by work
  • Encourages greater reporting of injuries and near-misses
  • Makes workers more confident
  • Helps develop a more positive safety culture in the organisation
  • Saves the economy many millions of pounds

Amongst the wealth of evidence for this, research has shown:

  • companies with union safety committees had half the injury rate of companies without unions or joint arrangements
  • highest injury rates are found where management deals with Occupational Health & Safety without consultation
  • rates of ill-health have also improved where there is a union

WorkSmart has, amongst other things, a Find a Union service which lists which union covers particular industries.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 7) employees have two main duties -

  • to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts and omissions
  • To co-operate with the employer and others to enable them to fulfil their legal obligations

 Also, under the Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 8)

  • No person may misuse or interfere with safety provisions. (Known as the “No Horseplay section)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publish a poster on what your rights and duties are which should be prominently displayed at your workplace.

Rights and duties

It is a legal duty that your employer must display this. For details, go to www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter.htm

In general, your role is to help to make sure that you and your fellow workers leave work every day in a safe and healthy condition – not in an ambulance, or in a heavily-stressed condition, or with the increased risk of contracting a work-related disease or condition. 

Safety rep

The best way to do this is if you and fellow workers elect a safety rep, whose role is to get the employer to fulfil their legal obligations to make that happen - the employer has the responsibility and duty for all of that.

“The achievement of good health & safety standards at work is and should be a basic human right for workers and makes good economic sense for the organisation you work for.” (International Labour Organisation).

Useful links

TUC (Trades Union Congress):
ww.tuc.org.uk for info on TU issues, including safety

Hazards Magazine:
www.hazards.org for info on work hazards, from a rights perspective

WorkSmart:
ww.worksmart.org.uk for help for working people, including which trade union to join

Unionlearn:
ww.unionlearn.org.uk for trade union training, including safety

Employers are responsible for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees, as well that of members of the public affected by the work.

Employers have a duty of care to all staff and members of the public affected by the work, including volunteers.

Employers can be found negligent if what they do, or fail to do, causes an accident to a volunteer.

For any organisation which employs at least one member of staff, the Health & Safety at Work Act and Regulations made under it will apply.

A different part of the Health & Safety at Work Act covers the employer's duty to volunteers and other members of the public.

Employers need to take volunteers into account when carrying out risk assessments and taking steps to make a workplace safer.

Employers should also ensure they are adequately insured for the number of volunteers they expect to use.

Most small community groups engage mostly in fairly low risk activities e.g. running a charity shop or small office, and there is useful advice readily available which is easily followed: see www.hse.gov.uk/voluntary/index.htm.

Sensible measures that involve anticipating what could happen then making things safer need not be problematic, nor involve cancelling activities by citing "health and safety" as an excuse. 

Governing body

Community groups would be advised to have at least one person on the managing body who keeps an eye on health and safety matters, has some relevant training, and reports back to the governing body when necessary.

Some basic risk assessments may be needed e.g. to ensure that computer users do not develop painful conditions later, but they are not hard to do and step-by-step advice is available.

Some basic training may be needed for staff and volunteers e.g. when manual handling is necessary, after steps have been taken to cut out as much heavy lifting as possible, for example by making it possible to carry smaller loads.

Hazardous activities

Even smaller groups can sometimes undertake work which is potentially more hazardous e.g. when refurbishing, and should seek advice when this happens.

Also, increasing numbers of community organisations do engage regularly in higher risk activities which can cause serious accidents to clients, staff and others e.g. from using lifting equipment for clients unsafely. 

There have been deaths to patients, for example, and government cuts mean that more charities now take over work that was previously undertaken by local authorities.

Those running such organisations need to take their employers' safety duties as seriously as any employer in other sectors are required to do, and make it a priority in how they run the organisation.

The HSE tells employers: " A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. Workers and others have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures. "

Workers also have rights to be consulted and fully involved in the process.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations the employer must carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments to enable workers to avoid accidents and occupational ill-health (which in a typical year is far 

greater than that arising from accidents) resulting from the work that you might carry out. 

Resources are available to help do it well - see the HSE website

 

Besides their duties to all employees, employers have a legal duty to:

  • do a specific risk assessment for work or work experience for under-18s, which takes into account their lack of experience, and to take steps to protect them from risks
  • inform parents or carers of under-18s of any significant risks
  • take steps to ensure young people are instructed, trained and supervised to a higher standard than adults
  • prevent them working where they could be exposed to toxic substances or harmful radiation; or extreme heat, vibration or noise
  • observe certain restrictions on hours of work

The HSE has a section about young workers on its website www.hse.gov.uk

The TUC and Learning and Skills Council has advice to safety reps on apprentices: 
www.tuc.org.uk/extras/Apprentices.pdf

Employers are required by law to control the use of chemicals at work.  The law is called the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).  Under COSHH, employers must:

  • Assess risks in the workplace
    • Safety reps should be involved in the assessment and must be informed of results
  • Decide what precautions are needed
    • If risks are identified then action must be taken
  • Prevent exposure or, if not ‘reasonably practicable’, adequately control exposure
    • This could involve changing the process or substance, or introducing engineering controls such as exhaust ventilation
    • Personal protective equipment should be used only as a last resort
  • Ensure control measures are used and monitored
  • Monitor exposure
  • Carry out health surveillance
  • Have plans for dealing with emergencies
  • Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.  Employees should know:
    • what substances they work with and their hazards
    • results of the risk assessment
    • results of exposure monitoring and health surveillance
    • precautions which should be taken
    • emergency procedures

Further information about COSHH can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/index.htm

Having the involvement of a union safety rep in the COSHH process can make all the difference. These are just some of the things which can happen as a result:

  • a check can be made as to what happens in practice
  • the safety rep can use legal powers e.g. to do inspections, to investigate further
  • talking to people working with substances can reveal a number of things e.g. missed hazards
  • issues like better control measures, safer substitutes, compensation, can be pursued

Thousands of substances are used in workplaces and loads of information is available in books and on the web.  With so much material available, it can be difficult to find relevant information quickly.  A relatively easy way to find key information about a substance is to look at its:

  • Hazard label; and/or
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS);

Hazard Label

If a substance is hazardous, information about the hazards should be shown on the label on its packaging; this is required by law*.  Information about the hazard(s) is presented in the form of symbols (known as pictograms), signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

For example:

Danger

Fatal if swallowed

Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product

 

*The Classification Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation is intended to ensure that the hazards presented by chemicals are clearly communicated to workers and consumers.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

A SDS should be provided by suppliers for most substances that are considered to be harmful; this is required by law*.  The SDS contains information on the hazards of the substance, advice on handling and storage, first aid and accidental release measures, exposure controls and personal protection, and information on transport and disposal.  The SDS also provides information on how to manage risks associated with that substance. 

*The specific law covering SDSs is called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals).  REACH is about controlling harmful chemicals and came into force in the UK in 2007.

Other sources of information

HSE publishes leaflets on a number of substances, such as lead, chromium, arsenic, beryllium and silica

http://www.hse.gov.uk/index.htm

Information on chemicals can also be found in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Classification and Labelling Inventory

http://echa.europa.eu/information-on-chemicals/cl-inventory

The TUC Working in the UK guide is available in 13 different languages including Polish, Rumanian and English, with basic info on employment rights, health and safety, and related topics like sick pay and trade unions. It offers links to further info and explains when they are available in other languages e.g. the ACAS HELPLINE can be accessed in different languages. Migrant workers and anyone new to the world of work in the UK, like school-leavers, will find it very useful.