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Asbestos removal may force MPs to leave the Houses of Parliament

The news that MPs may need to move out of the Houses of Parliament whilst asbestos is removed and the buildings are refurbished, should come as no surprise considering the levels used in the construction of iconic landmarks such as these.

Plans to remove a significant amount of asbestos from Buckingham Palace will also mean the Queen and Prince Philip need to vacate whilst renovations take place. These works are expensive for the public purse and also very time-consuming, so what does this extended period of dealing with asbestos mean for those carrying out the work?

Anyone who needs to handle asbestos must be licensed to do so, and have undergone specific training. Requirements are set down in the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other bodies.

Asbestos regulations and training

There are three levels of asbestos training in the UK:

  • Asbestos awareness (Category A)
  • Non-licensable work (Category B)
  • Licensable work with asbestos (Category C)

Contractors and workers hired to deal with asbestos in Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament will, therefore, be licensed. HSE is the body responsible for worker health in the UK, and have wide powers to enforce asbestos regulations.

Although it is unlikely that such high profile work will fail to meet legislative requirements on health and safety, the Health and Safety Executive bring numerous prosecutions every year against firms and individuals who fail to protect workers and the general public.

What are the post-training requirements when working with asbestos?

Workers must use appropriate respiratory equipment and protective clothing during renovation and demolition works. This safeguards them from the asbestos dust and fibres released from degrading materials.

The likelihood of fibre release from an asbestos-containing material, or ACM, is described as friability – in other words, how easily it crumbles. Each type of material has its own level of friability, the most dangerous being sprayed coatings and thermal insulation products which are known to break up easily if disturbed.

£4 billion restoration plan

It is reported that renovation of the Houses of Parliament could take six years in total, at a cost of around £4 billion. MPs and peers are likely to relocate to bases nearby, with a recommendation that the work takes place between 2022 and 2028.

One of the alternatives is for MPs to remain in the buildings whilst work is carried out, allowing it to be brought back to a basic standard. The problem is that this could take 32 years to complete and cost between £5 billion and £7 billion, according to a survey by Deloitte UK.

The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster came to the conclusion that the buildings face “an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore.” They fear a catastrophic fire may break out, or that systems will begin to fail and render it impossible to carry on with normal daily business if action is not taken.