Inclusion of asbestos abatement industry safety record in risk assessments

D. Collins made this Freedom of Information request to Health and Safety Executive

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Dear Health and Safety Executive,

Your document explaining the role of the HSE details 1:10,000 and 1:100,000 as the acceptable risk levels used when determining action for the workplace and the public respectively.
Your have produced several documents providing advice on how to manage non-licenced asbestos, all of which include the involvement of the asbestos abatement industry in some way (through testing, abatement work, or at the least hiring out an H-class vacuum cleaner). I would like to know if the HSE, in calculating the risks, have included the safety record of the asbestos abatement industry and if so, what figures they have used. To clarify with an example, your advice on the removal of a single asbestos containing fuse requires the use of an H-class vacuum cleaner. Given the extremely low probability of harm from the small quantity of asbestos in the fuse, has the possibility of the H-class vacuum cleaner not having been properly cleaned/maintained since it's last use (and so being covered in much more asbestos fibres than the fuse would have given off), been included in your calculations? The only document I've found so far is an older report of compliance with clearance thresholds in sealed-off zones which showed that over 50% of companies failed to meet the requirement. If this were extrapolated across the industry, it would mean there was at least a 50% chance the H-class vac has more breathable asbestos fibres on it than the fuse backing, meaning the least risk would be to not use the vacuum cleaner at all.
Any data you have on the safety record of the asbestos abatement industry and how this has informed the risk assessments behind your advice on non-licenced asbestos abatement would be appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

D. Collins

Health and Safety Executive

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Dear Mr/Ms Collins,

Thank you for your recent enquiry made as a Freedom of Information request under FOI. Your question essentially is about how HSE develops its policy and guidance. On reflection HSE has decided that it would not be appropriate to treat this as an FOI request because of the amount of information that is already publicly available about this process for example the summary at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/hse49.pdf at page 16 onwards.

You will appreciate that HSE 's purpose is to protect people from risk arising from a wide range of work activities. HSE produces guidance on many topics including asbestos. HSE guidance of course takes account of a wide range of research and evidence built up over many years, including evidence of compliance and non-compliance from inspections and judgements across workplaces as to what controls are reasonably practicable. HSE 's policy is to be as transparent as possible and to publish research. This means that a search of our website will reveal what is available and held by HSE, except we cannot collate and publish the whole of HSE's inspection experience and developing policy discussions however as it is simply not practicable. The relevant HSE staff continuously exchange information and review guidance which is then published online.

HSE answers as many questions as it can via our Advice team https://webcommunities.hse.gov.uk/connec... the questions you ask seem more suitable for that route than the FOI route you have used. Questions about underpinning data are likely under FOI to get a very short answer that HSE does not hold the information (because it's not in a collated form that can be supplied and if it is in that form it will normally have been published). HSE's commissioned research and HSL's reports can be found online.

You ask 'I would like to know if the HSE, in calculating the risks, have included the safety record of the asbestos abatement industry and if so, what figures they have used.' ....... you suggest HSE should take account of potential non - compliance in considering whether the risk remains low .

In HSE's Impact Assessment for the 2012 regulations assumptions were made and published about levels of non- compliance for specific low risk asbestos work see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/.... Under FOI the answer is information on HSE assumptions about compliance is already publicly available. However this Impact Assessment for lower risk work was unusual and normally higher levels of compliance are used in Impact Assessments. Given that Asbestos removal/ abatement is normally a licensed activity and a priority for HSE, we would now expect a high level of compliance and our guidance sets the standards accordingly. HSE nowadays expects the removal sector to show leadership and adopt a culture of continuous improvement. This means that old research cited by you is not likely to be relevant now. For more information on licensed work risks see Consultation Document CD205 for the 2006 regulations for which HSL carried out a risk assessment at Annex D(A. ) http://www.hse.gov.uk/consult/condocs/cd....

In brief HSE guidance is written assuming that most people will comply and play their part.

You finish by asking 'Any data you have on the safety record of the asbestos abatement industry and how this has informed the risk assessments behind your advice on non-licenced asbestos abatement would be appreciated.'
Further information on enforcement information is available in HSE's Prosecution data base and notice databases: http://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/prosecutio... and the information at https://webcommunities.hse.gov.uk/connec...
.
Finally, I would add a number of other specific comments. The use of H-class vacs is usually an optional control measure for non-licensed work. With regard to fuse boxes, other control options are also available (eg damp cloth/rag). It would be the decision of the non-licensed contractor whether to use an H-class vac or not. This is likely to be a commercial and risk-based decision determined by the extent and range of non-licensed work carried out by that organisation. As formal maintenance/servicing of the H-class vac by the "asbestos abatement industry" would only be required every 6-months, the vast majority of cleaning and decontamination of the equipment purchased or on longer term hire is likely to be carried out by the non-licensed contractor. The non-licensed contractor by law must be competent and should have safe procedures in place for such work. Where equipment was hired from a supply company (eg for short term or other use), hoses and brush heads (the most difficult components of the system to decontaminate) are normally supplied as new consumables (ie to be disposed of as contaminated waste on completion of use) and would not normally require cleaning by the hire company.

From this is seems reasonable to conclude that the risk of harm from "returned" equipment would be extremely low/negligible. Therefore the "older report on compliance" which you refer to is unlikely to be relevant now. The Asbestos Leadership Group (ALG)(which HSE chairs) issued guidance on maintenance and servicing of H-class vacs (and NPUs) in 2009. The guidance outlines the standards expected in such work. In addition, HSE now meets regularly with the asbestos decontamination equipment supply industry (F-DEM) to discuss standards and procedures in the supply, servicing and maintenance of equipment including H-class vacs.

I hope this answers your enquiry.

Kind regards

Dr Martin Gibson
HM Principal Specialist Inspector
(Occupational Hygiene)
Health and Safety Executive
59 Belford Road
Edinburgh
EH4 3UE

Dear Health and Safety Executive,
If I understand your response correctly, you seem to be saying that the HSE have taken into account the likely outcomes (in terms of asbestos exposure) from the asbestos abatement industry in it's advice to the public about dealing with ACMs, but that any evidence of this is either already published or the personal experience of HSE staff and therefore not written down.

If this is correct, then it raises some serious concerns, so I'd like to clarify first before taking the matter further, that this is, in fact, what you're stating.

I have read just about every report the HSE and HSL have published on asbestos, including all the ones you cite. Unless I'm missing something I cannot find a single report demonstrating that asbestos within buildings produces more than 0.0005f/ml average air concentration to that building regardless of the condition of the ACM. Seeing as the clearance rate is only 0.01f/ml and ten years ago almost half of companies didn't even meet that, I cannot reach any other conclusion, from the available evidence, than that the most significant source of asbestos exposure to the public comes from the asbestos abatement industry, not the ACM's within buildings themselves, no matter what condition they're in. Given this conclusion I'm fining it hard to see how the HSE are not focussing the majority of their efforts on ensuring the abatement industry are meeting the expected standards and are not advising building owners to leave asbestos well alone, regardless of it's condition until the abatement services can be demonstrated to actually reduce the levels of contamination in a building rather than potentially increase them. I've made this a FOI request because, having faith in the evidence-based policy making of the HSE, I presumed there exists either some evidence of buildings with damaged ACMs having contamination levels above 0.01f/ml, or some evidence that the medium-term result of asbestos abatement is to produce an air quality much lower than 0.0005f/ml, otherwise I cannot understand how the evidence leads to the advice to have the asbestos removed/encapsulated, or even to involve the abatement industry in any way whatsoever (including testing services and specialist hire firms), especially in the case of lower risk scenarios. I'm still failing to see where the evidence is that the risk of contamination from involving these companies is actually lower, in every single case, than the risk from the ACM itself.

Your advice to householders regarding asbestos is “Any badly-damaged asbestos material that is likely to become further damaged should be removed if it cannot be protected.” (quote from the HSE website), householders are also directed to your asbestos essentials sheets, an example of which suggests that the changing of a light bulb under AIB tiles requires full PPE and an H-class Vacuum cleaner (not optional). Given that none of the publications produced by the HSE or HSL contain measurements demonstrating that the air concentration on removing light bulbs from under AIB tiles produces a risk greater than 1:100,000, nor that the potential contamination from a poorly cleaned H-class Vacuum cleaner (or a non-compliant specialist bought in to do the job) produces a risk less than 1:100,000, I'm struggling to see how the 'evidence' could lead to your website directing householders to this kind of advice.

I'm not sure how the link to the compliance database is supposed to support the HSE's decision to write advice “assuming that most people will comply and play their part” when the first page contains three asbestos abatement companies who failed to meet the required standards and one asbestos analyst faking results. Again, with all the available evidence pointing to very low risks from ACMs in place regardless of their condition, I'm struggling to see how the 'evidence-based' policy of the HSE could still be to direct householders to the kind of advice mentioned above.

The point is that the risk from brought-in contamination either on equipment or on the clothes of workers has to be non-zero (otherwise there would be no requirement to decontaminate). It follows therefore that in order to produce an 'evidence-based' policy advising people to hire such equipment, or bring in such workers, measurements of both the potential contamination from this source, and the potential contamination from the ACM or activity in question are required so that it can be demonstrated that one outweighs the other. All I'm asking for is a copy of that evidence.

The WHO in their paper on Asbestos state ““In the general population the risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer attributable to asbestos cannot be quantified reliably and probably are undetectably low.” and the conclusion of the task force with regards to mesothelioma was “"there is little or no room left for any effect attributable to environmental exposure". Given these conclusions, for householders to be in any way advised to involve the asbestos abatement industry for anything other than large scale demolition or renovation, the safety record of the industry would have to be near perfect, otherwise the risk from poor quality work or brought-in contamination would easily outweigh the 'undetectably low' risk from doing nothing at all. Your own database demonstrates it clearly is not.

Yours faithfully,

D. Collins

Health and Safety Executive

Thank you for emailing the Health and Safety Executive. This is an automatic acknowledgement to tell you we have received your email.

Please note this email account is for the submitting of FOI requests via the 'whatdotheyknow' website only. For all other FOIs requests please refer to http://www.hse.gov.uk/foi/your-right-to-...

HSE publishes a comprehensive range of information and guidance on our website. You can find out what the health and safety law requires by searching under the relevant topic or industry section, and all of our publications are free to download. HSE does not operate a telephone helpline for general health and safety information. If you need to engage the services of a health and safety consultant, you may wish to visit the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).

If your email is a request for advice, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/informatio...

If your email is about a concern, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/complaints...

If you wish to report an incident, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/index.htm

Thank you for contacting the Health and Safety Executive.

Health and Safety Executive

1 Attachment

Mr/Ms Collins

 

Since this matter has become the subject of extended correspondence
 beyond the initial FOI question and since we prefer to attach the earlier
correspondence to keep everything together,  it would be very helpful if
you would let me have your direct personal  email address so that I can
email  direct to you my colleague Mr Gibson’s  further contribution to
this correspondence with an attached PDF.  

 

Helen Ratcliffe for M Gibson

[1]www.hse.gov.uk

[2]http://newscentre.hse.gov.uk/wp-content/...

 

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Dear Health and Safety Executive,
I'm slightly confused as to why a preference for attaching the previous correspondence has prevented Mr Gibson from writing his reply here in the public domain where anyone interested in this matter can see it. A copy of all previous correspondence appears above on this website so there is no need to attach further copies.
Furthermore, I note that you (a public, taxpayer-funded organisation) have not provided a direct correspondence email for Mr Gibson (something which I consider unnecessarily clandestine) but would ask that I post my private email address on a public forum.
I understand that some of what I have written is off topic for a FOI. If you are prepared to engage with that discussion, them please provide an email address for Mr Gibson and I would be happy to forward my concerns directly to him with a return address. If you do not wish to discuss the matter further, then please could you simply clarify the point of the original question, here on the public forum. Do the HSE possess any evidence that domestic asbestos, in situ, causes more than an average of 0.01f/ml exposure in all cases and that asbestos abatement activities consistently and reliably leave a property with less than 0.0005f/ml exposure in all cases? If they do not, could you please explain the logic of advising the public to involve the abatement industry (in some form) in domestic asbestos issues regardless of the scale of the activity.

Yours faithfully,

D. Collins

Health and Safety Executive

Thank you for emailing the Health and Safety Executive. This is an automatic acknowledgement to tell you we have received your email.

Please note this email account is for the submitting of FOI requests via the 'whatdotheyknow' website only. For all other FOIs requests please refer to http://www.hse.gov.uk/foi/your-right-to-...

HSE publishes a comprehensive range of information and guidance on our website. You can find out what the health and safety law requires by searching under the relevant topic or industry section, and all of our publications are free to download. HSE does not operate a telephone helpline for general health and safety information. If you need to engage the services of a health and safety consultant, you may wish to visit the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).

If your email is a request for advice, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/informatio...

If your email is about a concern, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/complaints...

If you wish to report an incident, please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/index.htm

Thank you for contacting the Health and Safety Executive.

Health and Safety Executive

Mr or Ms D Collins

 

HSE has replied to your substantive FOI request(s) indicating that the
information is already publically available eg on how HSE  approaches  to 
formulating  guidance and risk assessment.  HSE has  suggested that  you
use the link to our Advice team  at
 [1]https://webcommunities.hse.gov.uk/connec...
for your follow up observations.  It is possible that the  nature of the
url  link was not made clear enough to you  in our correspondence as  you
suggest that  you do not wish to broadcast your email or other contact
details on the website you are using. We were not suggesting that you do
that at all. The HSE  webcommunities link given is only accessible by the
HSE advice team.   If you  let us have  a contact email  through that link
and say in the notes ’ please refer this to the Asbestos Policy Team ( H
Ratcliffe)  who knows about this already and has requested my contact
details ’.       We will see how we can further advise.   There can be a
short time lag  as HSE receives a large amount of correspondence and
requests which must be handled with finite resources.    

 

H Ratcliffe

Policy Advisor

HSE

 

 

 

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