Last reviewed 17 May 2022

Following work carried out by Labour Research Department (LRD) for the TUC and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, the extent to which asbestos can still be found in local authority buildings in England has been revealed.

Highlighting that asbestos is still the biggest workplace killer, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and that Britain has the highest rates of mesothelioma cases in the world, the survey shows that town halls, libraries and leisure centres still contain the deadly substance more than 22 years after it was banned in new buildings.

The LRD found a total of at least 2690 premises with asbestos (excluding schools and housing), owned by a sample of 31 local authorities in England (equivalent to nearly 10% of local councils). Chorley Council was the only one surveyed which had removed asbestos from all its premises.

The TUC is calling for new legislation requiring removal of all asbestos from public buildings, rather than the current policy of “managing” it.

It points out that there is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibres — inhalation even of small quantities can lead to mesothelioma decades after exposure — and that HSE research has found that only 30% of tradespeople such as plumbers, joiners and electricians were able to understand the correct measures for working safely with asbestos.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s important that new councillors taking office this month know about this problem. It’s their responsibility to keep the people who use those buildings safe — but they need help from national government too.”

The only way to protect today’s workers and future generations is, she concluded, through the safe removal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings.

Details of the LRD findings are available at www.tuc.org.uk.