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UK Government responds to the petition: "A central register of Asbestos and phased removal of Asbestos from all buildings"

We're not quite sure what to think about the UK Government's response to this petition: A central register of Asbestos and phased removal of Asbestos from all buildings

We're confused.  How can we change nothing when so many are becoming ill or worse?

Here is the Government response in full:

Government understands concerns about asbestos in buildings. We will continue to consider how we can improve the system to minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos.

The Government recognises the devastating impact asbestos related disease has on those who have been exposed and their families. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure the legacy asbestos risk in Great Britain is managed effectively.

We are not opposed to any steps which would enable the risk of asbestos exposure to be better managed. However, there needs to be clear evidence to demonstrate how responding to the two recommendations would improve health outcomes. 

It is the Government’s view that Great Britain has a mature and comprehensive plan to manage asbestos risk that aligns with the best evidence currently available. This is through the implementation of Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

These regulations require those who own or are responsible for the maintenance and repair of non-domestic buildings (known as duty holders) to assess whether asbestos is present, what condition it is in and whether it gives rise to a risk of exposure. They must then draw up a plan to manage the risk associated with asbestos, which must include removal if it cannot be safely managed in situ. 

Asbestos must also be removed if it is in poor condition or a vulnerable position, and before any refurbishment and demolition work. This will lead to the elimination of asbestos from the built environment, without the need for a fixed deadline. National modelling estimation carried out in 2022 by the Health and Safety Executive, as part of the second Post Implementation Review (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/632/pdfs/uksiod_20120632_en.pdf) of Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, indicated there will be a substantial reduction in the numbers of buildings containing asbestos over the next few decades.

Research studies carried out over several decades all agree that the sort of invasive and destructive work associated with removing asbestos gives rise to the greatest release of asbestos fibres and the greatest risk of exposure. As such, the Government could only advocate more proactive removal of asbestos from buildings if there is compelling evidence that the increase in exposure for workers removing asbestos is justified in terms of reduced risk to building users. At present, the evidence is not there.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 also requires duty holders to share information regarding the location, condition, and type of asbestos in buildings, in digital or paper form, with anyone liable to disturb it (e.g. workers, contractors and the emergency services). This information must be shared so an assessment can be made about the risk before work is undertaken on the building. Appropriate action can then be planned and taken to prevent or minimise risk of exposure to workers and building users. There is currently no evidence available to demonstrate how a central register would add value to this existing legal duty.

The Government recognises the importance of using good information to support management of the asbestos legacy in Great Britain and the Health and Safety Executive is working closely with industry stakeholders to better understand how the quality and accuracy of asbestos information can be improved.

The Health and Safety Executive, in its role as an independent, evidence-based regulator, will continue to review and consider any new or emerging evidence where it can help improve health outcomes.

Department for Work and Pensions

Specifically, we are questioning the comment that "There is currently no evidence available".  There is so much evidence to the contrary, and plenty of evidence that suggests that the condition of asbestos is deteriorating despite all of the controls currently in place and cited in the reply.  Our report Damage: The Poor Condition of Asbestos in our Schools, Hospitals & Houses created from independent expert analysis of asbestos software Alpha Tracker data (more than 3 million asbestos samples, no less!) demonstrates the shockingly poor condition of asbestos in our most important public buildings.

We simply must improve the management of asbestos in the UK.  Some MPs are starting to make progress with implementing change and we support them in their efforts.  It is critical that the entire asbestos industry demands change to improve standards, reduce risk, and help to reduce and prevent asbestos-related disease for future generations.


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