Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have halted work on the former Kendal Mint Cake factory because of asbestos debris. The site is currently undergoing redevelopment into residential housing, and is located within a busy area of the town.
The danger is that asbestos fibres could be inhaled by workers and members of the public, given the close proximity to a residential area. A prohibition notice gives the firm working on-site 21 days in which to appeal. If no appeal is forthcoming, the company is obliged to bring in specialist contractors licensed to remove the asbestos.
What is asbestos licensing?
Strict rules surround the handling and movement of asbestos – many prosecutions are brought each year by the Health and Safety Executive, against businesses failing to comply with legislation. For example, long-term work with asbestos insulation boarding and sprayed coatings is regarded as high risk, and requires licensed contractors for safe removal.
The decision as to whether a specific case is licensable is based on the risk to workers and members of the public, and a full risk assessment is needed for each situation. Examples where licensed contractors might be needed include work with loose fill asbestos, lagging for pipes, and cleaning up debris that contains asbestos, as in the case at Kendal.
Notification should be given to the Health and Safety Executive of work being carried out at certain locations, including factories, schools and colleges, hospitals, and demolition sites. Preventing exposure to asbestos is the main aim, with HSE having investigative and enforcement powers if they suspect a breach of health and safety legislation.
Work with asbestos in shops, offices and other commercial premises is notifiable to the local authority, with the Office of Rail and Road being the body for notification of work with asbestos on the railways. A minimum of 14 days’ notification has to be given by contractors.
‘A risk of serious personal injury’
The ‘risk of serious personal injury’ is one of the guidelines that helps Health and Safety Executive inspectors decide whether serving a prohibition notice is an appropriate course of action. In the case of asbestos, the ‘serious personal injury’ refers to life-threatening illnesses that often result from breathing in fibres and dust particles.
Terminal cancers, including mesothelioma, have resulted from the inhalation of minute asbestos fibres released when the substance is damaged. These fibres can set up infections within the lungs of the victim, leading to cancer or other serious respiratory diseases in later life.
The latest Health and Safety Executive statistics reveal that 2,538 people died from mesothelioma in 2013, with a similar number of asbestos-related lung cancer deaths being estimated for the same year.
Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure, and those working in the construction industry are considered most at risk. HSE estimate that the mortality rate will remain at around 2,500 people a year until the end of this decade.