Government Rejects Asbestos Removal Petition

A petition, signed by over 10,000 individuals, urging the government to commit to the removal of asbestos over the next 40 years and to establish an asbestos register has been declined. Despite being a leading cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with over 5,000 annual fatalities from asbestos-related diseases, the government has expressed the need for concrete evidence that these two measures would indeed enhance health outcomes.

Key Points:

  • Asbestos is the primary cause of work-related deaths in the UK.
  • The petition called for the implementation of two recommendations from a 2022 inquiry by the work and pensions committee. These were: the creation of a central asbestos register and a structured plan for its safe elimination over four decades.
  • The work and pensions committee emphasized the necessity of a strategy to remove asbestos from public and commercial buildings within 40 years.
  • The government, while acknowledging the concerns, maintains that the current Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is aligned with the best available evidence.
  • The government also argues that proactive removal can increase exposure risk during the removal process, and there isn't enough evidence to justify this approach.
  • Mesothelioma UK CEO, Liz Darlison, stresses the significant public support for government intervention and calls for immediate action.
  • The work and pensions committee criticized the passive approach of waiting for asbestos-containing materials to decay as unsustainable and underscored the potential benefits of a central asbestos register.
  • There is no cure for mesothelioma, an asbestos-linked cancer, with up to 2,700 new diagnoses each year. The Health and Safety Executive promises a thorough review of any fresh evidence to enhance health outcomes.

Responses to the petition highlight the breadth of support for government intervention. Asbestos continues to kill thousands of people in the UK each year. There are measures that can be taken to address this and the public have spoken.The government MUST take action! There is cross party support for a national asbestos register and a phased removal, so they must make this a priority.

Liz Darlison, Chief Executive of Mesothelioma UK

Response From NORAC Chair Colette Willoughby

The recent government decision to reject the call for a comprehensive asbestos removal plan has stirred up a great deal of controversy and emotion, as witnessed by a flurry of impassioned discussions across various platforms, including LinkedIn. While many decry this as a dark moment for the UK, my stance deviates slightly from this common sentiment.

It's crucial to understand that the asbestos issue isn't black and white. Merely instituting a blanket ban and initiating a nationwide removal isn't the silver bullet many hope for. The solution needs to be multifaceted, intertwining better management and education on asbestos.

I engaged in some enlightening conversations on LinkedIn over the weekend. To my surprise, I encountered a great deal of agreement, despite earlier comments on the platform painting the decision as regrettable. This consensus further solidified my belief: we must address the glaring gaps in knowledge and training about asbestos.

One of the issues I highlighted was the shocking lack of awareness among individuals in charge of various works, not strictly confined to asbestos removal. A glaring example is that many don't even comprehend the necessary checks and procedures required for day-to-day maintenance or refurbishments. The Health and Safety Executive's recent "Asbestos in Schools" campaign further underscores this urgent need for training and guidance.

The clamor for a national asbestos register is understandable. However, I must point out an often overlooked fact: for almost two decades, non-domestic buildings have been legally mandated to maintain an asbestos register. So, would a national database make a significant difference? Not necessarily. The crux of the problem lies in understanding the "why" and "how" of managing asbestos. If individuals can't interpret or utilize a localized register efficiently, how would they fare with a national one? Once again, the solution circles back to adequate training.

Furthermore, it's crucial to factor in the logistical challenges. Even if there was a drive to remove all asbestos, we currently lack the number of companies equipped to undertake such massive operations, let alone the required analysts.