When was asbestos banned in UK?

Last Updated on 12th March 2020 by Kirsty Smithson

What year was asbestos finally banned in the UK?

Surprisingly, asbestos wasn’t actually fully banned in the UK until 1999.

Initially, back in 1985, the first asbestos prohibition laws were introduced and the UK banned the import and use of blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos.

It took some years later before the UK government finally banned the use and import of white chrysotile asbestos in 1999.

Asbestos was used extensively in house building before the UK banned it’s use in 1999.

Infact, it is estimated that as many as 50% of homes built pre 1999 may still contain asbestos.

Older homes may still contain Artex, which was still being made with white asbestos up until the mid 1980s.

Asbestos floor and ceiling tiles were also popular throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, so it’s very likely that older properties that haven’t had any extensive renovation will still contain these materials.

However, any new build homes constructed after 1999 should not contain any asbestos materials at all as by then the UK had banned all use of asbestos.

New asbestos regulations introduced in UK

As well as asbestos having been finally banned in the UK in 1999, there were a number of other laws passed in the years to follow that regulated safety when working with and being exposed to asbestos.

For example, on the 21st November 2002, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations were introduced.

These new regulations meant that anyone working with any asbestos insulation products (eg removal, etc.) must possess an asbestos licence in order to safely carry out the work.

Additionally, these new asbestos at work regulations set maximum exposure limits and also enforced that any asbestos must be identified and managed properly.

asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999
Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006

On the 13th November 2006, the 2002 regulations were replaced by the new Control of Asbestos Regulations Act which brought together all existing pieces of legislation and combined them into one single law prohibiting the use, supply and importation of all asbestos.

This new law was to prevent both the import and new uses of any asbestos containing materials, such as the spraying of asbestos materials as a surface coating, using insulating or soundproofing materials made from asbestos, and use of asbestos cement, boards, panels or tiles covered in asbestos paint or plasters

But it also allowed for any existing asbestos materials manufactured prior to when asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, such as tiles and insulation board, to remain intact if they were in good condition and left undisturbed.

Greater emphasis was placed on ensuring that anyone who may come into contact with asbestos materials as part of of their work, including maintenance workers, were to be provided with suitable training.

Employers and self employed workers were now required to protect against exposure to asbestos, and as such, control limits were introduced which were put in place to protect workers from exposure to asbestos, thus limiting the amount of asbestos they could be exposed to.

Asbestos exposure limits are introduced

Any exposure to asbestos fibres now had to be below the airborne exposure limit of 0.1 fibres per cm³ within a 4 hour period or for short term exposure to asbestos (say over a period of 10 minutes), it should not exceed 0.6 fibres per cm³.

This new regulation meant that contracted site workers would be able to assess the nature of a material and ascertain whether or not it was asbestos before commencing with any work on site, enabling them to prepare accordingly.

A process which would thereby help to eliminate the risk of uncontrolled damage to asbestos containing materials, and would prevent exposure to asbestos fibers if any work needed to be carried out that risked disturbing asbestos materials.

Any exposure to asbestos had to be strictly controlled with workers wearing the correct respiratory protective equipment.

The 2006 Control of Asbestos regulations also enforced that almost all work involving removal of asbestos insulation had to be carried out by a licensed contractor.

Meaning that anyone working with high risk asbestos materials under the regulations must have a license to work with asbestos as issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

These regulations also stated that work must be performed in accordance with the approved code of practice (ACOP), and that any plans for asbestos removal had to be submitted to the HSE at least two weeks prior to any works commencing.

Asbestos removal operative wearing RPE
Asbestos removal operative wearing RPE

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

On the 6th April 2012, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012  were introduced which superseded all previous regulations and updated them to be in line with the EU asbestos directive.

In truth, the changes made in the 2012 regulations are actually quite limited.

Only the rules for some types of non licensed work with asbestos have changed which now have additional requirements, such as giving notification of work to the HSE and keeping medical and surveillance records.

Everything else literally remains the same as it was in the Control of asbestos regulations 2006.

Why was asbestos eventually banned in the UK?

Here in the UK, we have a long history with asbestos and it has been widely used as a common building material in both residential, commercial and public buildings such as schools, hospitals, factories, chemical and power plants.

Despite us now being fully aware of its dangers to our health and asbestos being banned in the UK in 1999, these dangers were ignored by the UK government for decades and we continued to use asbestos extensively in construction and manufacturing.

Scientists were warning of the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1920’s and 1930’s after having conducted studies that suggested the material as being the cause of serious respiratory illnesses in individuals exposed to asbestos fibres.

But despite these early scientific studies and warnings, we continued to use asbestos.

So much so that by the 1960’s and through to the 1970’s, the UK was importing a whopping 170,000 tonnes of asbestos.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that it suddenly became apparent that cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases were rising across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

People were becoming ill and dying from having been exposed to asbestos many years earlier.

It was at this point that the government started to take notice and realised that action needed to be taken in order to control the use of asbestos and possibly have it banned altogether in the UK.

Hospitals also realised they would need to provide treatment for people affected by exposure to asbestos, such as those with mesothelioma cancer.

This led to the first of the asbestos prohibition laws being introduced in 1985 when the UK banned the import and use of blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos.

Then in 1992, some forms of white asbestos (chrysotile) were also banned before all forms of asbestos were finally banned in the UK in 1999.

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their building so as not to put employees at risk.

So make sure you contact our Armco office to arrange asbestos testing or an asbestos survey, before it’s too late! 

Whether you need an asbestos management survey, or a refurbishment/ demolition survey, contact us on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting https://www.armco.org.uk/

Finally, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit https://www.armcoasbestostraining.co.uk/to book an asbestos awareness training course.

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Published Nov 06, 2019

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