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EU: Asbestos

House of Lords written question – answered on 6th April 2011.

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Photo of Lord Boswell of Aynho Lord Boswell of Aynho Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they are complying with European Union legislation on asbestos safety, and in particular on (a) the impact of the material itself, and (b) exposure of the workforce to it.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The EU's direct acting regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), prohibits the import, supply and use, including second hand, of asbestos and articles containing asbestos. The regulations are enforced by the co-ordinated action of regulators including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Environment Agency, local authority trading standards, HMRC Customs officials and UK Border Agency. These all work to detect and prevent the use or importation of new asbestos materials and the exchange or re-sale of articles containing asbestos which may remain in position if installed in service before 1999 when the UK banned all asbestos use. When taken out of service such materials must be disposed of to approved sites under European Hazardous Waste requirements regulated by the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The EU directive on asbestos worker protection was transposed by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 in Great Britain (Northern Ireland has equivalent regulations). These regulations are enforced by the HSE and local authorities and require contractors to be licensed by HSE for work on higher risk materials. The purpose of licensing is to facilitate performance monitoring against the detailed requirements of the directive to detect where improvement is needed so appropriate action can be taken. The current regulatory approach is based on evidence of risk and allows a proportionate risk based approach to controls to protect health. Work on lower risk materials must also be carried out by suitably trained workers, with no need for a licence, but who either exactly follow HSE's task guides or carry out the required risk assessment to identify their own measures to control exposure. Comprehensive guidance is published by HSE. HSE takes enforcement action where it finds workers (or the public) have been, or are likely to be, put at significant risk. HSE's awareness raising media activities which targeted building maintenance workers, now those considered most at risk, are currently in a phase of assessment and evaluation.

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