20th anniversary of UK’s asbestos ban

26 November 2019

The No Time to Lose campaign, which raises awareness of work-related cancers, has marked 20 years since asbestos was fully banned in the UK.

The Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999, came into force on 24 November 1999, five years ahead of the European deadline for this and, nearly 15 years after the first asbestos bans, thus banning chrysotile asbestos in the UK.

Up until 1999, chrysotile had been the only type of asbestos permitted in the UK since amosite and crocidolite were banned in 1985.

However, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), which runs the No Time to Lose campaign, has warned that asbestos can still be found even in countries that have banned it, and therefore must be carefully managed in the workplace.

Asbestos is the biggest occupational cancer killer, claiming at least 107,000 lives a year worldwide — but probably many, many more. In Britain alone around 5000 people die from work-related asbestos exposure.

IOSH points out that the risk from asbestos is considered to be so serious that more than 60 countries, including the UK and those in the EU, have banned its use and have specific laws to protect workers and others who may be exposed to it.

However, asbestos is still used and imported into many countries, and there are still many thousands of tonnes of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in buildings, and in industrial plant and equipment, all over the world. Workers could therefore certainly be at risk from breathing in asbestos fibres, including in the UK.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000. It is in many of the common materials used in the building trade such as lagging, roofing felt, textured coatings and asbestos insulating board.

The HSE emphasises that because of the dangers of asbestos, some of these materials should only be worked on by a licensed contractor.