AsbestosThis month, Bradley Environmental reflects on the 20th anniversary of the Asbestos Prohibition (Amendment) Regulations 1999 coming into force.

On the 24 November 1999, the UK outlawed the import, supply and manufacture of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). The Asbestos Prohibition (Amendment) Regulations 1999 formed the pinnacle of a series of laws that were put into place with the first ban coming into force on 1st January 1986 (The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations). As the debilitating health risks associated with the inhalation of asbestos fibres became increasingly apparent, the pressure for a national ban began to mount.

Many people don’t realise that during the 70s and early 80s, only voluntary bans were used to control the import of asbestos into the UK. 

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Asbestos production and usage was at its peak in the 1960s and 70s, with over 170,000 metric tonnes produced per annum and more than 3,000 ACMs on the market. Despite voluntary bans on blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos in 1970 and 1980, it wasn’t until 1985 that the first of the Asbestos Prohibition Regulations completely prohibited the trade and use of these materials, as well as the production of new ACMs. As white asbestos (chrysotile) was considered the least dangerous, this continued to be imported, supplied and used until the national ban was enforced in 1999. However, it should be noted that exemptions for certain materials containing chrysotile were permitted until as late as 2005, with current legislation still enabling the Ministry of Defence to use ACMs if it is in the interests of national security.

Since the Asbestos Prohibition Regulations were passed, new legislation was introduced in 2002 (CAWR) and updated in 2006 (CAR) and 2012 (CAR) to further improve health and safety. Strict procedures are now in place to identify, manage and safely remove asbestos. But as we approach the 20th anniversary of the national ban, asbestos continues to pose a considerable risk to UK workers.

So why is asbestos still a problem after all uses of asbestos was banned?
Still today, around 5000 people die every year in the UK from asbestos related deaths. In context that’s twice the amount of people that die as a result of road traffic accidents. Regulations and new legislation is further being improved with new legislation introduced in 2002 and updated in 2006 and 2012.

There is a long latent period of around 20 to 40 years between exposure and development of the disease, hence the reason that new cases are still coming to light. There are now strict procedures in place to identify, manage and safely remove asbestos but the risk to UK citizens 20 years on is very much apparent.

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