This year the HSE launched a new campaign aimed at keeping people safe from the future dangers of asbestos, given exposure to even a single airborne fibre risks the development of any one of a number of asbestos related diseases years down the line. Around 5,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer, making it one of the biggest causes of work-related deaths in Great Britain.

Whilst asbestos was banned in 1999 it can still be found in older buildings. Any works undertaken in buildings containing asbestos need to be closely managed to ensure employees and the public are not placed at risk of asbestos exposure when it is disturbed. Those in control of works on buildings containing asbestos must ensure that:

  • Any asbestos is identified before works commence;
  • Risks of exposure are assessed;
  • Workers are trained and provided with the correct equipment; and
  • Safe systems of work are prepared and followed.

There have been a number of recent prosecutions for those found to have breached health & safety legislation in relation to exposure to asbestos, including:

  • An asbestos removal company in Kent was fined £30,000, and a director fined £5,000, after carrying out works without a licence and failing to follow a safe system of work for asbestos removal. There were little or no control measures in place to prevent exposure to asbestos, for its own contractors and third parties. The company and the director were also ordered to pay costs of more than £7,000 each.
  • The director of a development company in Cornwall was fined nearly £66,000 and order to pay more than £26,000 costs after demolishing a hotel without taking reasonable steps to control exposure to asbestos. No asbestos assessment was made beforehand which meant it was not sufficiently identified before works began.
  • A construction company in Warrington was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,000 for removing large amounts of asbestos-containing material during a refurbishment project and leaving it outside the building alongside a public road. They had not carried out any asbestos survey before beginning the project and risked exposure to workers and the public.
  • A building project company in Manchester was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay nearly £19,000 in costs for demolishing several buildings containing large amounts of asbestos and leaving the materials lying around the site, exposing workers to significant risk of harm. The company director – who had instructed asbestos surveys for the site in the months prior, and therefore knew the buildings contained asbestos – was also fined £75,000, ordered to pay costs of nearly £19,000 and received a suspended custodial sentence of 20 weeks. Had this been in Scotland, where we do not have suspended sentences, he may have received an actual custodial sentence.

These prosecutions show how seriously the HSE are taking breaches of health & safety law in regard to managing the risks of asbestos in construction works. It is clear that there is an appetite to prosecute directors as well as an organisation, where the organisational failings have been committed with that director's consent, connivance or neglect. Personal liability can lead to significant fines or, at worst, a period of imprisonment.

Further information, including legislation and guidance, is freely available on the HSE website. For further specific advice on compliance with regards managing the risks of asbestos in your business, please contact Clare Bone or another member of the Health and Safety team.


Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate

Eve Gilchrist