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New Asbestos Regulations

Published: 01st Jul 2006

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New Asbestos Regulations

'The 'Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006'

The UK Government, through the Health and Safety Commission [HSC] and its executive arm, The Health and Safety Executive [HSE] have proposed a new set of asbestos regulations - The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 [CAR 2006] to comply with the requirements of EU membership and EU law.

The regulations will implement the 2003/18/EC amendment to the Asbestos Worker Protection Directive 83/477/EEC [AWPD] in Great Britain. They will also repeal and replace with a single set of regulations:

  • The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002
  • The Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983, as amended
  • The Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1992, as amended

The HSC target publication date is October 2006. Because further stakeholder and HSC meetings have yet to take place there may be some minor changes to the supporting documentation - but HSC has confirmed it intends to implement all revisions to the regulations in October 20061.

Asbestos legislation in the UK has been in existence for some considerable time and has been improved as new techniques, analytical methods and epidemiological data have become available. It has also been adopted as best practice by many other countries across the EU and worldwide - therefore the review process currently taking place in the UK may provide useful information for a wider international audience.

Asbestos describes a group of fibrous metamorphic minerals of the hydrous magnesium silicate variety. Asbestos occurs naturally and it is mined from metamorphic rocks if commercially viable. The three most commonly used forms used were amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile. Due to its properties of high mechanical strength, thermal efficiency and fire resistance, millions of tons of asbestos were incorporated into thousands of different Asbestos Containing Materials [ACMs] which were, and in some countries still are, used extensively in the built environment.

Unfortunately what was once termed 'Nature's miracle fibre' had an unforeseen side effect - it was a lethal carcinogen when the airborne fibres were inhaled in any significant quantity. Asbestos has been banned in most western countries but is still being mined and processed in many developing nations. Asbestos is ubiquitous - everywhere on the planet has a very low atmospheric environmental 'background' level of airborne asbestos, typically 0.0005 to 0.0008 f/ml or less. [f/ml, fibres per millilitre of air, sometimes referred to as f/cm3, fibres per cubic centimetre]

Asbestos-related disease

Asbestos-related disease is the principal cause of work-related deaths in the UK today, accounting for some 3,500 deaths annually - based on the latest available figures2.

The principal asbestos-related diseases, which are almost invariably fatal, are:

  • Asbestosis - an irreversible scarring of the lungs that causes a decrease in elasticity. An industrial disease that was associated with past high levels of exposure of all types of asbestos. High levels of exposure are a phenomenon of the past in the UK and those suffering now will be doing so as a result of exposures in the 1950s and 1960s
  • Lung cancer - increased incidence in those working with asbestos. All types can cause the disease with some evidence of more danger from crocidolite and amosite. Smokers who are exposed to asbestos fibres have an increased likelihood of contracting the disease
  • Mesothelioma - cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal wall. There is evidence of increased risk from exposure to crocidolite or amosite asbestos fibres with the disease being triggered by low or short exposures. Initially, asbestos miners, laggers and sprayers were the occupations which were most likely to develop an asbestos related disease 3

All these diseases have a latency period of anything between 15 and 60 years. Thus someone exposed to asbestos in their twenties could, typically, develop mesothelioma between 40 and 70 years of age.

Many of those now suffering from asbestos-related disease were previously exposed to very high levels of asbestos in the more traditional industries e.g. shipbuilding, construction, boiler work. However, recent research has shown that many asbestos-related deaths are in people who have spent some of their working lives in the building and maintenance trades. Those people have often worked without knowing that they have been exposed to asbestos fibres when they disturb asbestos-containing building materials.

Some building and maintenance workers continue to be at risk from exposure to asbestos. They include: heating engineers, alarm installers, maintenance workers, electricians, plumbers, gas fitters, demolition workers, phone engineers, network installers, janitors and those others who disturb the fabric of buildings in their daily work.

The annual number of recorded mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain has risen from 153 in 1968 (the first complete year of data after the register of mesothelioma deaths was set up) to 1848 in 2001 (the latest year for which data are available).

Although nearly all cases are caused by exposure to asbestos, a small number of deaths each year occur in people with no history of exposure.

Most of those who die from mesothelioma each year are male - in 2001 there were 1579 male deaths i.e. 85% of the total. Figure 1 shows the number of mesothelioma deaths amongst males by age group and year, since 1968 - note the continual increase in mesothelioma deaths. The graph for all asbestos related deaths is markedly similar, and goes against the expected pattern.

If peak asbestos usage in the UK occurred in the late 1960s, and average latency period for asbestos-related disease is 25 years, it would be reasonable to assume that the peak for asbestos deaths would be around the early 1990s.

However, the latest figures from HSE suggest the anticipated peak to be around the year 2014. This trend was first observed by Doll and Peto in 1985 in a paper commissioned by the HSC4. They correctly surmised that intermittent and low level exposure to asbestos by ancillary trades during routine maintenance and minor installation and refurbishment since the early 1970s was continuing to result in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases3. This provided the epidemiological framework and data that initiated the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, and associated legislation, in an attempt to reduce the mortality rates from asbestos-related diseases in the UK. It also provided the thrust behind the HSE campaign to improve asbestos awareness and promote best practice in the asbestos removal industry.

Over the years the HSC/HSE introduced various sets of regulations that addressed the risks from working with asbestos. Earlier regulations tended to focus on specific industries and processes, but from 1987 the scope of the regulations was extended to encompass the need to control the risks in most operations where asbestos fibres could be released.

The principal UK Asbestos Regulations include:

  • Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations [ASLIC] - these require companies to be licensed to carry out work with asbestos insulation, asbestos coatings and insulating board. These materials are the most friable, have the highest percentage asbestos content, and are thus the most hazardous materials to work with. Licensed asbestos contractors must have extensive training, equipment maintenance and quality-assurance procedures in place before HSE will issue them with a licence. In addition, due to the risks associated with asbestos removal, their annual insurance costs per operative are, on average, GBP6000 per annum [EUR8580]
  • Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 (CAWR) lay down the requirements for the protection of people working with or potentially being exposed to asbestos, including levels of protection, control measures, training requirements etc. These regulations also include the requirement for those with responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of non-domestic premises, to identify and manage any risk from asbestos within their premises [Regulation 4]
  • Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations - prohibit the importation, supply and use of all asbestos, and all products where asbestos has been knowingly added

The licensing and CAWR Regulations are supported by Approved Codes of Practice [ACoP] and/or guidance that provide advice on how to comply with the legislation. The ACoP has a special status in law: although it is not legally binding, complying with the ACoP is accepted as doing everything required to comply with the law. Should a contractor deviate from the ACoP, the onus would be on him to prove the steps he took were as good as, or better than, those required by the ACoP.

Updating existing asbestos legislation

In consultation with internal and external stakeholders, HSE's Asbestos Policy Team considered the need to update existing asbestos legislation. This may be encouraged by the need to implement European Directives or through progress in medical research and advances in working practices. There is also the need to review regulations with the aim of reducing the associated burdens on industry wherever possible.

The development of significant changes to asbestos regulations can be time-consuming, taking between two and four years. In addition to members of the Policy Team, the development process includes the involvement of the specialist expertise within HSE, and external specialists. The drafting of the regulations is, to a large degree, the domain of HSE's law experts who, working from instructions, develop appropriate wording to ensure that the policy intentions are expressed in unambiguous language which facilitates enforcement. Consideration is also given to the need for consistency with other legislation.

Key to the process is the three-month consultation during which interested parties have the opportunity to comment on the prepared draft of the regulations5.'

In this instance, a Consultative Document6 [CD] relating to CAR 2006 was circulated to all interested parties [around 2000 organisations] by HSE and made available for download via their website. Comments and feedback were invited, and the consultative period ended on 31st January 2006. The CD consisted of a large amount of background information and research, and took the form of a series of questions in order to gauge the degree of acceptance of the proposed changes to the existing regulations.

Comments received during the consultation phase resulted in the HSC commissioning further research to be carried out by the Health and Safety Laboratory and the further discussion of this new data by a Working Group on Action to Control Chemicals [WATCH] with representatives of all the major stakeholders represented. This was the primary reason for the non-implementation of CAR 2006 in April as originally scheduled.

These further results and comments from the WATCH group7 will be taken into account when preparing the final version of the regulations for submission to the HSC for the approval of the Commissioners.

The final stage in the process will be the submission, via the UK Minister for Health & Safety matters, for Parliamentary approval, anticipated in October 2006 - which is the implementation date for the AWPD [Asbestos Workers Protection Directive]. The making of regulations is invariably supported by the issue of an Approved Code of Practice [ACoP] and associated guidance.

There was broad acceptance of most of the proposals from the 504 respondents [around 85% positive responses on average].

However, the first two proposals proved to be very contentious:

Question 1 of the CD asked whether there should be a new regime to exempt work that produces only sporadic and low intensity exposure from the requirements of licensing, notification and medical surveillance.

63.3% of initial respondents disagreed, mainly due to the lack of definition as to the term 'sporadic and low intensity' - it was felt this was ambiguous and there was confusion as to whether it applied to activities or level of exposure. At subsequent stakeholder group meetings there was considerable debate covering everything from the risks from unskilled or amateur builders to the semantics and etymology of the word 'sporadic'.

After due consideration, the HSC provided an interpretation1 and thus the regulations will state:

'The Commission agreed that if a peak exposure level of 0.6 fibres per cm3 of air measured over a ten-minute period could be exceeded then such work could not be considered to give rise to 'sporadic and low intensity exposure'. If a risk assessment demonstrates that this level could be exceeded in a working day, then the work would have to be carried out under licensed conditions. This approach should remove any doubt over the meaning of the term but HSE will also set out the type of work that cannot be considered to give rise to sporadic and low intensity exposure in the Approved Code of Practice.'

This quantification in terms of exposure and time is consistent with the existing ten-minute 'control limit'. The main effect will be to allow very minor or short duration works to be carried out by trained personnel without the need for a licensed contractor - thus moving the licensing requirement from a 'material type' assessment to a more 'risk-based' one.

Question 2 of the CD asked for views on the proposal to remove work with asbestos-containing decorative coatings from the scope of the licensing regulations.

This produced a strong response, with opinion being severely divided on the issue.

Due to the wording of the first licensing regulations, 'asbestos sprayed coatings', meaning highly friable fireproofing with up to 85% asbestos content were lumped together with 'asbestos containing coatings' such as textured decorative coating [TDC] containing less than 4% chrysotile for the purposes of risk assessment. This subsequently meant that work with TDCs required the use of a licensed contractor, which in turn meant the work was prohibitively expensive.

Opposition to change came from the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association [ARCA] and various trade unions. The most positive reaction came from the local authorities and housing associations - these bodies have stocks of social housing incorporating tens of thousands of rooms coated in TDCs. HSE figures for removal of TDC show it is on average around GBP600 [EUR860] cheaper per room for a non-licensed contractor to do the work.

Other proposals produced the following responses:

Do you agree with the proposal to align CAW requirements for minimising worker exposure more closely with the COSHH hierarchy of controls listed in order of priority?

Yes = 449 (89.1%) No = 9 (1.8%) Not stated = 46 (9.1%)

Since the asbestos regulations predate the COSHH [Control of Substances Hazardous to Health] regulations, they use a more archaic form, referring as they do to a 'control limit' [comparable to a maximum workplace exposure level] and an 'action level' [comparable to an occupational exposure level]

Do you agree with the proposal to implement a single Control Limit of 0.1 f/cm3 as a 4-hour TWA as measured using the WHO method? If not, please give details.

Yes = 430 (85.3%) No = 24 (4.8%) Not stated = 50 (9.9%)

The existing four-hour control limits for amosite and crocidolite are 0.2 f/cm3 and for chrysotile 0.3 f/cm3. A control limit is broadly equivalent to a maximum exposure level and if it is likely or liable to be exceeded then various control measures are required to reduce exposure. This will usually involve the use of respiratory protective equipment [RPE] and will mean an area is designated a 'respirator zone'.

The reduction in the control limit should mean best practice is more closely followed to reduce peak operative exposures with long-term benefits in reduced occupational exposures.

In addition, the new regulations will move from the ERM [European Reference Method] to the WHO [World Health Organisation] method for airborne fibre evaluation. This will increase the measured result of air tests, which may have a cost implication due to delays in 'clearing' areas where asbestos removal works have been carried out. This can be avoided if the removal contractor cleans the area properly after the work.

Do you agree with the proposed approach to training requirements?

Yes = 442 (87.7%) No = 11 (2.2%) Not stated = 51 (10.1%)

Various interested parties are working together under the guidance of the HSE to agree appropriate levels of training for operatives and supervisors in order to promote better working practices and increase awareness. The requirement for regular refresher training will have a cost implication for employers, although some of this may be offset by negotiating reductions in insurance premiums.

Yes = 450 (89.3%) No = 8 (1.6%) Not stated = 46 (9.1%)

Asbestos is a very heavily regulated industry and the myriad revisions and reissues of such a variety of regulations are confusing and difficult to manage. It is hoped this change will simplify things greatly.

Do you agree with the proposal that accreditation be required for someone to undertake a four-stage clearance certificate procedure?

Yes = 441 (87.5%) No = 9 (1.8%) Not stated = 54 (10.7%)

The four-stage clearance test [4SC] is used to check the completeness of asbestos removal works and the cleanliness of the area prior to handing the area back to the owner or client. Accreditation for 4SC is awarded by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service [UKAS] to ISO 17025 in the UK.

Over 100 laboratories in the UK are already accredited, so there is unlikely to be any shortage of services when the requirement becomes mandatory. Accreditation will guarantee the competence, impartiality and integrity of the laboratory carrying out the inspection and associated air testing.

Conclusion

The proposed changes to the asbestos regulations are the next logical step in a process that started in the early 1980s and has been moving forward in slow but significant increments.

The HSE has been tightening the legislative requirements to drive forward improvements in both the asbestos removal industry and in the day-to-day management of asbestos-containing materials in buildings. The proposed four-hour control limits, for example, are a twentieth of what they were in the early 1980s. This has been made achievable through advances in technology, training, awareness and the sharing of best practice. The likely impact of CAR 2006 in the UK is difficult to gauge - the HSE Regulatory Impact Assessment concludes that costs and benefits will balance each other.

What appears certain, however, is that this process will continue, and after a period of putting the regulations into practice, further areas of improvement will present themselves. ?

References

1 HSE press release C011:06 09 May 2006

2 http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/asbestos.htm

3 http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/disease.htm

4 Doll R and Peto J (1985) Asbestos Effects on health of exposure to asbestos. HMSO: London

5 http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/regulations.htm

6 http://www.hse.gov.uk/consult/condocs/cd205.htm

7 http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/hsc/iacs/acts/watch/010206/minutes.pdf

8 http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/hsl_pdf/2005/hsl0532.pdf

Author Details:

Mike Harvey is a senior consultant with the RPS Asbestos and Occupational Hygiene team. The RPS Group is an international consultancy providing advice on the responsible development of natural resources, land and property, the management of the environment and the health and safety of people.

He is a biochemist who first became involved in asbestos when monitoring a large removal project in France in 1996. He holds a CoCA [Certificate of Competence in Asbestos awarded by the examining board of The British Occupational Hygiene Society] In addition to being a senior consultant he is the Quality Manager for a team of around 25 technical staff. The London [City] office are accredited by UKAS [United Kingdom Accreditation Service] to ISO 17020 for Asbestos Surveys and ISO 17025 for asbestos sampling and analysis. He is also a member of the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Technical Committee in the UK.

www.rpsgroup.com

Published: 01st Jul 2006 in Health and Safety International

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