The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited a number of Police Scotland premises in Glasgow earlier this year, and as a result, an improvement notice was issued in relation to asbestos.
Effective management of asbestos in older buildings is crucial to protect the health and welfare of those working there. Detailed surveys and risk assessments form just part of what should be an ongoing programme of checks and re-checks, to determine the location and condition of asbestos.
HSE has the power to enforce legislation laid down in the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, and an improvement notice means that immediate steps need to be taken to remedy an unsatisfactory situation.
Ineffective asbestos management systems
The duty to manage asbestos involves carrying out surveys to locate asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), and registering the condition of any asbestos already known to be present.
These requirements underpin the entire asbestos management process, and allow any ACMs that are potentially degrading to be dealt with safely and appropriately by licensed contractors, before they become a significant danger.
It is widely thought that intact asbestos is safe, but considering that the substance was banned in 1999, any asbestos found in a building will already have been there for more than 15 years, and in many cases it will be decades old.
Lack of adequate inspection procedures, and no written log of the whereabouts or condition of asbestos, is a potential recipe for disaster. The Scottish Herald reports Police Scotland had no asbestos management plans in place, and that the Scottish Police Authority didn’t know where the substance was located within their buildings.
The newspaper also reported that:
“… areas with asbestos containing materials were not marked as such, other areas were marked in general terms as containing asbestos but with no indication where it actually was… at one location it looked as though the asbestos containing material had recently been drilled into by a contractor whilst fitting a new fire safety system.”
What remedial action can be taken?
The Scottish Police Authority is now duty-bound to inspect its other properties, and to set up an overall system to manage asbestos at each site. Further HSE inspections will ensure compliance with their improvement notice.
These measures provide confidence that the whereabouts and condition of ACMs within the force’s buildings is known, and is being dealt with.
Unison, the trade union representing police staff, has been working alongside Police Scotland to safeguard its members’ health and safety. A spokesperson from the union said:
“The health, safety and wellbeing of our members is paramount and we will continue to effectively challenge the organisation to ensure that these issues are addressed in a timely manner, whatever the cost and that a situation such as this does not happen again.”
Police Scotland stated that immediate action had been taken to deal with site-specific problems, and confirmed their commitment to providing a safe environment for staff and visitors.