MPs demand plan to remove asbestos from public buildings

Asbestos should be removed from all non-residential buildings, an influential committee of MPs has demanded.

Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee urged the government to publish a clear strategy for its removal within a 40-year timeframe.

Illness related to the dangerous substance leads to 5,000 deaths per year, the committee said, representing “one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times”.

More than 400,000 non-domestic buildings in the UK could contain asbestos, according to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate.

Under existing laws, materials containing the substance can be left in place if they are in good condition and are unlikely to be disturbed. But the cross-party committee noted that the sustainability-fuelled trend towards retrofitting existing buildings had made the issue of asbestos removal more pressing.

“The likely dramatic increase in retrofitting of buildings in response to net-zero ambitions means that more asbestos-containing material will be disturbed in the coming decades, thus changing the cost-benefit analysis,” added the committee in a report published this week.

“There is a need for a cross-government and system-wide strategy for the long-term removal of asbestos, founded on strong evidence of what is best from a scientific, epidemiological, financial and behavioural point of view.”

The report called for the government to work with the HSE to draw up a plan for non-residential building stock to be cleared of asbestos by 2062.

“This plan should, in the first instance, commit to improving urgently the evidence around safer asbestos removal and disposal, considering relative costs and benefits.”

Anthony Waddington, an asbestos illness lawyer at Simpson Millar, described the committee’s report as a “positive step”, but called for a shorter timetable for the removal of asbestos from public buildings.

“Over the years, we have represented dozens of people who have suffered because of exposure to the deadly material, including people who came into contact with it while in hospitals, infant schools, council flats and even local libraries,” he said.

“It is absolutely imperative that the government puts forward a comprehensive, cohesive strategy on how and when the deadly asbestos materials will be removed, and that the commitment to remove all asbestos from schools is done as quickly as possible.”

The committee urged the HSE to develop a central digital register of asbestos in non-domestic buildings.

MPs also called for a “sustained increase in inspection and enforcement activity”, targeting compliance with existing regulations regarding asbestos.

A multimedia campaign to change the behaviours of building owners and tradespeople should also be conducted, the report advised.

A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that the watchdog had received the committee’s report, and said it would “respond in due course”.

The Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment.

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