Hull councillors had to start paying after the insurance provider went into liquidation.
City councillors have been warned they might have to stump up more cash to settle historic compensation claims over asbestos-related illnesses.
The authority has paid a total of £3.5m in two separate pay-outs since 2014 to meet liability requirements following a court judgement two years earlier.
Rather than payments to individuals, the pay-outs were in the form of levy charges imposed after the council’s main insurance provider Municipal Mutual Insurance (MMI) went into liquidation in 1993.
The levy charges are pooled into a national pot which is then used to settle asbestos-related compensation claims.
Legal wrangles over liability issues following the liquidation of MMI went on for nearly a decade.
But in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the insurer was liable to pay outstanding compensation to employees who had contracted mesothelioma, a fatal type of cancer linked to exposure to asbestos.
As a result, a so-called scheme of arrangement was triggered requiring councils such as Hull to pay levies into the national pot based on a percentage of the amount paid to creditors.
Hull paid just over £2.1m in early 2014 as a result of the ruling.
Then, following a further review of MMI’s financial position, the levy was increased from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.
Hull then provided another £1.4m to fund the additional levy.
Now, the city council’s chief finance officer David Bell has warned the authority might have to dip into its pockets once again.
In a new report, he said: “The scheme’s administrators have advised that it is possible that a further levy may be required to meet future cost but at the moment none is payable and, as such, further liabilities cannot be reliably quantified.”
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THE TEACHERS’ Union has highlighted that asbestos in schools is still not being managed safely, following the publication of the Department for Education’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process (AMAP) Survey report.
Ms Chris Keates, general secretary (acting) of NASUWT- The Teachers’ Union, said, “The NASUWT is deeply concerned to see that in a significant number of schools, asbestos is still not being managed safely. All steps must be taken to keep staff and children safe.
“The NASUWT is deeply concerned to see that in a significant number of schools, asbestos is still not being managed safely. All steps must be taken to keep staff and children safe.
“Every year, teachers and other education staff die from mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. In addition, up to 300 adults die each year due to exposure to asbestos in schools during childhood.
“We regret that the Government is simply not doing enough to protect staff and pupils.
“It is inexcusable that the Government has not made it compulsory for all schools to report on the presence and condition of asbestos.
“More than one in ten schools did not participate in the Department’s AMAP survey and 3,485 schools (17.8% of participating schools) are not compliant with the Department’s guidance.
“Asbestos is a significant problem in schools and it is deeply concerning that schools routinely are reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over concerns that they are failing in their duty to safety manage asbestos.
“To protect staff and the public, the Government should also ensure that all schools are properly inspected by qualified persons to determine where asbestos is present, whether it should be removed or can be managed safely.
“There can also be no avoiding the fact of Government cuts to funding for refurbishing and building new schools since 2010 which, potentially, have contributed to pupils and teachers being further exposed to asbestos risk.
“Government and employers should be proactive in ensuring that all pupils and staff are safe in schools.”
Original Source of Article: Health and Safety Matters
A RESTAURANT owner has been fined after asbestos was disturbed during the conversion of rooms above the restaurant into flats in Essex.
Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that during September 2016, above the Marco Polo restaurant on Lower Southend Road, Wickford, asbestos insulation board was removed and broken up which resulted in workers being exposed to asbestos fibres. An asbestos survey was only carried out after the asbestos had been disturbed.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that a management asbestos survey and a refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey had not been completed prior to the work starting, and the work had not been completed by a licenced asbestos contractor.
Faruk Kamali of Lower Southend Road, Wickford, Essex pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(3) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6,293.
After the hearing HSE inspector David King said “Those in control of works have a responsibility to manage the risks from asbestos in non-domestic premises. To achieve this the dutyholder must ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment is carried out as to whether asbestos is or is liable to be present in the premises.”
Original Source of Article: Health and Safety Matters
Nearly 700 schools have been referred to the national health and safety body over concerns they are failing to safely manage asbestos in their buildings, potentially putting thousands of staff and pupils at risk, it has been revealed.
It is thought that about 90% of school buildings in England contain asbestos, often around pipes and boilers, and in wall and ceiling tiles. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that it is only a risk if it is disturbed or damaged, which releases fibres into the air.
However, campaigners and unions say asbestos in schools is often poorly managed and that staff are frequently unaware of its location in the buildings they work in. Even low levels of exposure to asbestos fibres can cause cancer decades later. Research has shown that exposure to asbestos is more dangerous the younger a person is, raising concerns over the future health of children.
Last year, the government launched the asbestos management assurance process to find out more about asbestos in schools. According to information released following a freedom of information request, of the 2,952 schools bodies that responded in full to the survey, 2,570 (87%) reported having asbestos in at least one of their buildings.
The Department for Education (DfE) has now referred 676 state-funded schools and academies in England to the HSE as they did not provide evidence “that they were managing asbestos in line with regulatory requirements”. The HSE will now carry out inspections of some of those schools.
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), which is part of the joint union asbestos committee, said: “The fact that nearly 700 schools have been referred to HSE because they weren’t able to satisfy the DfE that they were managing their asbestos in line with legal requirements, is a shocking indictment of current systems of oversight.
“The lives of thousands of staff and pupils could be at risk in these schools. The HSE, which lacks resources following years of budget cuts, will now be expected to investigate these cases and we are concerned that it may struggle to do so.”
The HSE estimates that about 5,000 people die every year in the UK from asbestos-caused cancers, which can develop decades after exposure.
According to figures from the ONS, since 2001 at least 305 teaching and education professionals have died of mesothelioma, a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos. A 2018 study suggested that there were five times more deaths from mesothelioma among teachers and three times more among nurses than expected in populations not exposed to the substance.
In 2017, an NEU survey of members found that of the 46% of respondents who had been told that their school contained asbestos, half had not been told where the asbestos was located. Nearly 75% of those who had been told where it was located said the asbestos was in accessible locations, such as floors, ceilings, and window frames.
Materials containing asbestos become more dangerous as they deteriorate or get damaged, and 60% of the school estate is more than 40 years old, according to the NEU.
Lucie Stephens started campaigning about asbestos in schools after her mother, Sue, died of mesothelioma in 2016. Sue had worked as a primary school teacher for 30 years and was diagnosed with the cancer in 2014.
An inquest found she had died from an industrial disease and that on the balance of probability she was exposed during her time as a teacher in schools in Buckinghamshire.
“What really bothered Mum was that because she didn’t know there was asbestos there, she wasn’t able to protect herself, but she also wasn’t able to protect the children she was teaching,” said Stephens. “So she unwittingly exposed her children to asbestos as well and they will be in their 40s now.”
Stephens and the joint union asbestos committee are calling on the government to implement the phased removal of all asbestos from schools, something that was recommended by the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health in 2012.
Stephens is also campaigning for the government to release the names of all schools with asbestos in and is raising funds to build a website to make the information accessible. The DfE has so far refused to release the names on the grounds it would deter schools from sharing information with it in the future.
In April, Latimer AP academy in north London was forced to close when asbestos was discovered inside door frames in its Victorian building. Last month, the HSE confirmed it had found traces of asbestos at Brunel primary and nursery academy in Saltash, Cornwall, following an investigation.
Charles Pickles, an independent asbestos campaigner who until recently worked as an asbestos consultant, said: “In the 60s and 70s we all knew that smoking was dangerous, then suddenly we became aware that passive smoking could cause cancer as well. It’s the same with asbestos.
“If you were a builder or working in an asbestos factory in the 60s, 70s or 80s you could have had huge exposure and your fate may be sealed, but most of the asbestos that was manufactured then is still in our public buildings now. There is no safe level for exposure to asbestos. It’s still there and it will be getting disturbed.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The safety of pupils and staff is our highest priority which is why we have asked schools to provide information through the asbestos management assurance process. This data will help the department develop a greater understanding of the management of asbestos in schools. We plan to publish a report of the findings shortly.”
A HSE spokesperson said: “The HSE have worked with the DfE to use the asbestos management assurance process returns to provide targeted intelligence for a planned programme of proactive visits to schools.”
A costly clean-up operation is under way after 12 large bags of asbestos were dumped illegally on a river bank.
The overflowing sacks, from several different builders’ merchants, were found near Manea in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
It is thought the waste – which will cost Fenland District Council “several thousands of pounds” to clear – was dumped at some point on Sunday.
A council spokeswoman said: “The scale and audacity of the crime is shocking.”
The bags of asbestos – thought to weigh about 12 tonnes in total – were found next to the river at Byall Fen Drove, where the Sixteen Foot Bank meets the Forty Foot Bank.
“Exposure to asbestos can also be a serious health hazard,” the spokeswoman added. “We are working with our partners, including the Environment Agency, to investigate the incident, gather evidence and ensure the waste is removed as quickly as possible.
“Witnesses are key to helping us identify who is responsible and we would appeal for anyone with information to get in touch.
“We are committed to catching those who fly-tip in our district and would urge people to report any such activity that appears suspicious.”
Workers undertaking maintenance, refurbishment and demolition are most at risk from developing asbestos related diseases but are current controls sufficient?
Asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis kill 107,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization. Of that toll, the UK accounts for more than 5,000 deaths, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recorded. However, the conditions associated with the material develop decades after initial exposure, so today’s figures reflect legacy working conditions and exposures. They tell us nothing about the extent of current exposure and possible consequences.
The HSE predicts the number of deaths will continue at current levels, before starting to decline after 2020. This is because most fatalities in the UK are due to very high exposures during the milling, manufacturing and installation of asbestos products before 1980, when a voluntary import ban on brown asbestos was introduced. But asbestos risks are not confined to the past, and the expectation of a fall in deaths is no reason for complacency.
Although asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, it is still found in asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in commercial and public buildings and homes in lagging, asbestos cement products, finishes and coatings, and asbestos insulating board (AIB). The highest risk of exposure is among those working in maintenance, refurbishment or demolition, but people can also be exposed simply by working in a building containing asbestos if fibres are dislodged and breathed in.
The risk is managed in non-domestic premises in Great Britain by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Independent studies have largely confirmed that the regime is meeting its objectives, but concerns remain, including around the quality of surveys and the extent to which dutyholders, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), understand their responsibilities.
More widely, questions are being raised about the suitability of prevailing control limits and the sensitivity and use of air monitoring for longer-term occupational and environmental exposure in buildings. In addition, MPs and trade unions are demanding a bolder approach: eradicating future risk by removing all ACMs, starting with schools and other public buildings.
Aspirational goals The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (which implement EU Directive 2009/148/EC) places a specific duty to manage asbestos on owners and those responsible for maintenance in non-domestic premises. In its supporting guidance, the HSE states that if an ACM “is in good condition, well protected either by its position or physical protection, reducing the likelihood of damage, and is unlikely to be worked on regularly or otherwise disturbed, it is usually safer to leave it in place and manage it”.
In 2015, the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Safety and Health challenged these assumptions. Although it is recognised that high exposure is now rare, it suggested that “the lower levels of exposure, which can lead to mesothelioma, are still happening on a daily basis”. It also questioned the degree to which deaths may decline after 2020, arguing that accurate information on the extent of exposure since 1980 is lacking. It called for the removal of asbestos from public buildings and educational establishments by 2028 and from all buildings by 2035.
Commonly known as “managing in situ”, this approach relies on the competence of dutyholders in understanding the risks and ensuring ACMs are identified, recorded and properly monitored and controlled.
Other demands for phased removal focus on schools. This is largely due to the preponderance of so-called “system” buildings (which used substantial amounts of asbestos), the generally poor condition of the school estate, a lack of resources and investment, and the likelihood of inadvertent wear and tear due to children studying and playing in buildings. There is also evidence from independent government advisory group the carcinogenicity committee that a five year old is five times more likely than an adult of 30 to develop mesothelioma if they are exposed to it at the same time. This is because a child will normally have a longer future lifespan and so have more time for the disease to develop.
Charles PicklesCharles Pickles, Chief technical officer, Lucion ServicesThe Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), formed from trade union members of the Asbestos in Schools Group, is campaigning for a government-funded phased removal of all asbestos in schools, and – in the interim – improved management of the material.
JUAC chair John McClean supports the APPG’s recommendations but recognises that “the difficulties we have, in terms of resources, mean this is probably aspirational rather than deliverable”. But he remains convinced that there should at least be proper and costed plans in place, with ambitious goals.
“We’ve had this problem now since the late 1940s and 1950s,” he says. “Yes, some of the schools and public buildings Martin StearMartin Stear Director, Workplace Environment Solutionshave gone or have been refurbished – but the longer you leave it, the more expensive it gets, and successive governments are at fault. They’ve kicked the issue into the long grass, and this is partly because of the long latency period associated with asbestos diseases.”
Safer in situ Responding to the calls for a more positive approach to removal, an HSE spokesperson told IOSH Magazine: “Although standards in general have improved, the HSE’s experience of regulating asbestos removal McClean_JohnJohn McClean JUAC chairactivity over the past 40 years does not suggest that removing asbestos in good condition and then re-occupying buildings would be safer than the current strategy of careful management in situ and removal when necessary.” He added, however, that “arguably there is already a sustainable continuous programme of gradual, controlled removal and disposal”, pointing to the 30,000-35,000 licensed removals notified to the HSE each year. “This pattern has persisted for many years.”
According to the HSE, demands for removal on a much larger scale “discount a number of practical problems”, including:
a limited pool of competent contractors
much asbestos is inaccessible until end of life when buildings can be demolished safely
the difference in risk between material types
removal workers put at risk of high exposures during work
the fact that those nearby or reoccupying are entirely dependent on both the consistent diligence of workers and analysts and on the complete effectiveness of fibre containment (and later on the standard of surface cleanliness and maintenance of nominally “stripped” surfaces with adhering residual fibres).
Competent and correct Martin Stear, a chartered occupational hygienist and director of consultancy Workplace Environment Solutions, agrees that “we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, while we don’t know how much asbestos is left in UK buildings, huge amounts have been taken away”. Like the HSE, he believes that any duty to remove would be “fraught with problems because you’ve got to assume it is being done competently and correctly”. In his experience, “many of the problems currently out there are due to poor historical asbestos removal”.
One licensed removal contractor told him that about 40% of its assignments involved clearing up work carried out incorrectly by others in the past.
Inadequate record keeping and over-zealous surveyors can also prove problematic. “The dutyholder may not have an accurate record, so they ask a surveyor to look at a boiler room again,” Stear explains. “The surveyor doesn’t see any obvious issues but, to be 100% certain, they take a swab sample and find the odd asbestos fibre, so that room is designated as contaminated and re-cleaned when there is an insignificant or trivial risk and resources would be better focused elsewhere.”
Poor presentation of survey reports can hamper effective management of asbestos. “A surveyor goes on site with an electronic device, punching in information as they go along, which is then uploaded to a computer, producing a report that is often lengthy, complex and difficult to understand,” says Stear. “Even for me, they can be hard to follow, so the average dutyholder doesn’t stand a chance, nor does the tradesperson who arrives on site.
“None of this is to do with any inadequacy in regulation. It’s to do with some licensed contractors, analysts and surveyors lacking competency. The regulatory framework, analysts’ standards and practices are there; it’s just there are some cases where people are not doing a very good job.”
In other cases, dutyholders fail to carry out their responsibilities under reg 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (see A duty to manage, above). “They are responsible for making sure people do the right thing when on their site,” says Stear. “They don’t always do so for several reasons: they don’t have sufficient knowledge and training, they don’t have good up-to-date asbestos registers and pass on the right information, and they don’t plan jobs properly.”
The HSE acknowledges that the quality of surveys, commissioned by dutyholders to inform their planning, can vary and that the significance of the survey reports and resulting actions may not be fully understood by some SME clients. There are, it says, also “challenges around assuring reliable information flow from the dutyholder to those liable to disturb asbestos”. To resolve some of these issues, the HSE is working with industry leaders through the reformulated Asbestos Leadership Council (ALC).
Measure to manage Some campaigners are concerned about the degree to which exposure to asbestos (outside those knowingly working with the material in controlled conditions) is measured and monitored (see box on removal and clearance).
“When you talk to people about asbestos, they often refer to the control limit in the regulations – the 0.1 f/cc,” says McClean. “The problem with this is that it is meant for people removing it under controlled conditions. But if you look at the built environment – which includes schools – it’s the inadvertent exposure to asbestos that’s becoming the major problem. There isn’t a safe level as such. If I had to change one piece of legislation, I’d be looking at bringing that down to the lowest possible level that could be found, so it would apply across the built environment.”
Charles Pickles, chief technical officer at asbestos consultancy Lucion Services, recently argued for the introduction of an occupational exposure limit of <0.0005 f/ml for occupied buildings known to contain higher-risk asbestos, along with periodic measuring of low-level exposures using techniques such as scanning electron microscopy, which can quantify asbestos in air to very low levels and distinguish between fibre types and other non-organic fibres.
Pickles says: “Phase contrast microscopy, the current method widely used in the UK, is suitable for measuring high levels such as we used to get in asbestos manufacture and installation, and we currently get during clearance and removal work. But when you’re dealing with managing asbestos in situ, where there aren’t these higher levels of exposure but instead perhaps chronic low-level exposure, it isn’t sufficiently sensitive. Without sensitive air monitoring, we do not know if asbestos exposures are as low as is reasonably practicable and if our buildings are safe.”
He accepts that the sheer quantity of asbestos still in buildings means most of it has to be managed in situ. “It’s the only practical way forward and works for the less dangerous chrysotile (white) asbestos,” he says. He notes that 88% of the total amount of asbestos originally imported into the UK was chrysotile, while the other 12% – amosite (brown) or crocidolite (blue) – he believes is more risky when left in situ. “Our focus should be on removing that,” he says, “and in the interim on measuring occupational exposure levels using more sensitive techniques.”
No safe threshold The HSE advises “against solely focusing on headline control levels” and emphasises that the legal requirement is to reduce exposure to as low as reasonably practicable below a limit. “No safe threshold for asbestos exposure has so far been identified,” said the spokesperson.
He added: “The evidence so far strongly suggests that the much lower levels of fibre encountered today (after increased regulation and prohibitions) will lead to a continued reduction in future harm and that is already suggested by ongoing lung burden studies. Given that trend, it may be considered disproportionate to require additional routine air sampling in all or most pre-2000 non-domestic buildings.”
The HSE also points out that the Control of Asbestos Regulations focus “on work activities to protect workers who regularly are at risk, not on those who are not actively disturbing asbestos materials”. It emphasises that the duty to manage is intended to protect working building maintenance tradespeople, noting that “environmental levels indoors (or outdoors) are arguably a general public health issue” and suggesting it is better explored with bodies such as Public Health England.
Changing perceptions Most campaigners agree there is plenty of guidance on managing asbestos available in the UK, from the HSE, the industry and also trade unions. There are also initiatives such as IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign to raise awareness of asbestos-related cancer risks globally by collaborating with organisations worldwide, translating resources, and encouraging businesses to pledge to take action (see box right).
“Part of the problem for the public and young people, for example those going into building trade, is that, because it was banned in 1999, people think asbestos is not a problem anymore,” says McClean.
Another barrier is the long latency of the diseases. This presents challenges not only for timely data collection and interpretation but also in terms of public perception and policy response. McClean points to an incident where a wall fell down in a school in Edinburgh, killing a girl. “There was an instant response by the media to the death. But a schoolchild exposed now at seven might not develop a problem until their late 40s or early 50s. This is not a headline.”
The stand-off between campaigners’ calls for phased removal and the reality of the lack of resources, public engagement and political will is expected to continue. Meanwhile, the regulatory approach, based on the existing evidence base, is likely to stay substantially the same. Whether we are doing enough to control the risks remains a matter of debate, particularly in view of the lack of data as to the risks from current exposures. But as the APPG recently put it: how we act now will determine how many people continue to die in the future.
According to the report, 23% of schools have yet to respond and the committee remains “seriously concerned” about the “lack of information and assurance about asbestos in school buildings”.
It also calls on the Government to “name and shame” any schools that miss next month’s deadline.
The DfE launched its ‘asbestos management survey’ in March 2018, after the group of MPs first raised concerns about the lack of data in 2017.
Originally, the ministry asked schools to respond by 31 May 2018 and then extended the deadline to July 2018.
The survey was then re-opened in November and schools have until 15 February to complete it.
“Asbestos in schools can pose a significant threat to the health of pupils, staff and visitors. Where the risks are not being managed correctly, Government must be prepared to step in,” said committee chair, Meg Hillier.
“It is not acceptable for schools to continue ignoring requests for details of asbestos in their buildings. The DfE must name and shame schools that fail to meet its February deadline.
“Government needs to be clear how asbestos removal will be funded as it is not possible for schools to fund this from their existing budgets,” added Ms Hillier.
The chair of the Asbestos in Schools Group, Emma Hardy commented: “Nearly 90% of our schools still contain asbestos – and this is putting pupils and staff at risk of developing fatal illnesses in later life. The PAC has rightly criticised Government’s inadequate approach to asbestos management.
“What is needed is a Government funded phased removal of all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first. This is the only way to ensure the safety of school staff and most importantly pupils. As the Chair of the Asbestos in Schools group, I will be pressing the Government to commit the necessary funding for this’.”
A spokesperson for the DfE said: “The majority of academies are delivering a great education and – as recognised by the PAC – we are taking robust action in the small minority of cases where they are not meeting the high standards expected.”