ASBESTOS AND TEXTURED DECORATIVE COATINGS: THE 2012 REGULATIONS
HEALTH AND SAFETY BRIEFING
The Control of AsbestosRegulations 2012replaced the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006, and the earlier Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 and the Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1992. The principal reason for the introduction of these measures was to bring UK law into alignment with amendments to the EU asbestos worker protection Directive.
The regulations are accompanied by anApproved Code of Practice (ACoP), although the ACoP on the duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises remains largely unaltered from before. The ACoP is available as a free download on the HSE website at
The majority of the 2006 regulations remained the same in the 2012 regulations, with a small number of additional requirements included. The original 2006 Regulations tightened the requirements for managing and working with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). A single, lower control limit of 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre of air replaced the former combined limit of 0.2f/ml for amphiboles and 0.3f/ml for chrysotile. In addition, the regulations require:
- comprehensive - and obligatory - training requirements for workers and others likely to be exposed to asbestos in the workplace;extension of the accreditation requirements needed by those issuing clearance certificates following asbestos clearance;
- use of the World Health Organisation’s approved method for measurement of asbestos levels; and
- closer ties with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).
These changes were broadly welcomed by unions and health and safety campaigners. There were, however, two further measures which proved far more controversial amongst many specialists in the field. They are:
- a weakening of the legislative controls covering asbestos exposure where it is ‘sporadic and of low intensity’; and
- removal of work with asbestos-containing textured decorative coatings, such as Artex, from the licensing regime.
The two measures are linked: the requirement to have a licence is based on whether or not the worker exposure is likely to be sporadic and low intensity. It is because work with textured coatings is now thought to be of much lower risk than it was previously, that the HSE believes it no longer needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor.
Of the 500 or so responses which the HSE received to its consultation document, roughly three-quarters of respondents – including the NUT – argued against the exemptions for work resulting in ‘sporadic and of low intensity’ exposure and the removal of textured coatings (TCs) from the licensing system, on the grounds that ‘low risk’ is not the same as ‘no risk’, that workers and occupants of buildings needed to be properly protected, and that de-licensing would send out the wrong message about the massive dangers of asbestos in the workplace.
Such opposition failed, however, to result in amendments to the draft legislation, which as stated above, has been in force since 2006. Local authorities should have developed guidance to schools on the Regulations, particularly regarding non-licensable work with ACMs.
There were some changes introduced with the 2012 regulations in relation to non-licenced work, the remainder of the regulations stayed the same. The changes were introduced as the European Commission felt that the UK had not fully implemented the EU directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC). The 2012 regulations state that;
- some non-licenced work needs to be notified to the relevant enforcing agency, which for schools is the HSE;
- for such work which needs to be notified, brief written records must be kept with a list of workers on the job, plus the level of exposure likely to those workers;
- since April 2015, all workers or self-employed individuals doing notifiable asbestos work must be under health surveillance by a doctor. The examinations must be repeated at least every 3 years for as long as the asbestos work continues.
For more information on the changes introduced by the 2012 regulations, please see the HSE website at:
NUT Advice on Options for Schools
The NUT remains concerned about the possible consequences of these regulations, in particular, the weakening of the controls on ‘sporadic and low-intensity’ exposure to asbestos, and the de-licensing of work with asbestos-containing textured decorative coatings such as Artex. Both the HSE and the HSL, it would appear, have failed to address the residual risks from the removal of textured decorative coatings in schools, particularly to young children.
Textured decorative coatings can be worked on or disturbed for a number of reasons, for example during maintenance, refurbishment and repair, or during replacement of lights and other fittings. The NUT believes as a consequence that school maintenance staff should receive training in asbestos awareness as a minimum, in order that they can recognise potential ACMs and act accordingly. It should always be assumed that all potential asbestos-containing materials do in fact contain asbestos unless this can be specifically ruled out. The NUT believes that for legal compliance and to reduce safety risks to the absolute minimum, even apparently simple tasks such as changing a light fitting - where the ceiling may contain ACMs - should not be carried out by site maintenance staff but by licensed contractors.
The ACoP to the Regulations states that organisations should have in place a policy to always check for the presence of ACMs before allowing any relevant work to begin, and to ensure that work which does disturb ACMs is restricted to authorised people who are given the necessary information, instruction and training.
Furthermore, paragraphs 276 – 230 of the ACoP state that:
- Employers must first decide whether they can prevent the exposure to asbestos so far as is reasonably practical.
- It may be that the work which would disturb the asbestos or ACM is not necessary or that it can be carried out in an alternative way, which would not involve disturbing asbestos or would minimise such disturbance (e.g. re-routing cables away from ACMs).
- Work which disturbs, or is liable to disturb ACMs, should only be carried out when it is unavoidable.
Where the disturbance of any asbestos-containing material is unavoidable, the NUT believes that the only way to minimise asbestos exposure is for:
- only licensed contractors to be permitted to carry out work with ACMs in schools, even where the ACMs in question are de-licensed, such as ‘Artex’ or asbestos cement;
- such licensed contractors to use negative pressure units, 3-stage airlocks and personal decontamination units; and for
- enclosures not to be removed unless an independent accredited third party has carried out a full clearance inspection and monitoring.
There should be no acceptance of unventilated enclosures with 2-stage airlocks as any contamination spread into the building is a definite source of exposure.
It may well be that such measures would raise objections from schools or local authorities on grounds of cost. There is no doubt, however, that whilst the use of unlicensed contractors to remove textured decorative coatings is now in most cases legally permissible, the task of verifying the expertise, training, competence and track record of firms advertising themselves as capable of carrying out such work is a vast undertaking, requiring scrutiny of plans, processes, training details and risk assessments way beyond that which might be expected for any other forms of building or refurbishment work on school premises. More importantly, should such scrutiny later prove to have been insufficient, the price – i.e. in terms of subsequent asbestos-related diseases amongst school employees and occupants - is simply too high.
The licensing scheme, by contrast, requires asbestos removal firms to obtain a valid HSE asbestos licence. Contractors must satisfy the HSE that they have adequate knowledge, organisation and arrangements to carry out the work safely without detriment to the health of their employees or others who could be affected by their operation. The performance of these applicants is monitored by the HSE via field operation reports which constantly review the suitability of licensees.
It is for these reasons that the NUT recommends the use of licensed contractors for all work with asbestos.
Safety representatives should seek advice from the NUT Adviceline on 020 3006 6266 or NUT Cymru in Wales if their school opts not to use a licensed contractor for asbestos works, for instance if they claim the contractor;
- has fulfilled criteria ‘equivalent’ to that inherent within the licensing scheme; or
- in some other way meets the demands of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 without holding a licence.
Advice should also be sought where proposals for removal of ACMs in schools in any other way fall short of the guidance given in this briefing.
Summary of Key Points for NUT Safety Representatives
- Does your school have local authority guidance on the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012? In particular, has guidance been issued on the subject of non-licensable work with ACMs?
- Does your school employer have a policy to always check for the presence of ACMs before allowing any relevant work to begin, and to ensure that work which does disturb ACMs is restricted to licensed contractors, working in full co-operation with the local authority (where applicable), school management and safety representatives?
- Does the above policy recommend that alternative methods of carrying out maintenance or refurbishment tasks should be explored, avoiding contact with ACMs in the first place? For example, can electrical cables be routed so that ACMs are not disturbed?
- Have all staff members been informed where ACMs are located within the school?
- Has asbestos awareness training been given to any member of school staff whose work could forseeably result in their exposure to asbestos-containing materials?
- Are you fully involved, together with the local authority safety officer (where relevant), your NUT Health and Safety Adviser or NUT Regional Office/NUT Cymru, whenever any work involving asbestos is planned? As part of this planning stage, do you receive and have the opportunity to agree/disagree with a contractor’s safety policy and proposed work methods?
- Is all work with ACMs contracted to licensed asbestos removal firms?
Before removal/disturbance of non-licensable ACMs
- Has a risk assessment been carried out prior to any work being attempted? Has it been undertaken by a ‘competent person’ as required by law? Have you, the local authority safety adviser, the NUT Adviser or NUT Regional Office/NUT Cymru received and approved the risk assessment?
- Does the risk assessment take account of the nature and extent of the asbestos-containing material, the level of exposure its removal will generate, the method and the control measures proposed for its removal and the potential risks from materials other than asbestos?
- Does the risk assessment set out the steps to be taken to prevent exposure to asbestos, or reduce it to the lowest level reasonably practicable?
- Have those carrying out the work supplied adequate information, instruction and training for staff, students and visitors who could be affected by the work? Have you been involved in discussions about this information prior to its dissemination? Asbestos removal contractors, as the employers of asbestos workers, have a duty under regulation 3(3)(a) of the Asbestos Regulations to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide adequate information, instruction and training to non-employees on the premises who could be affected by the work, as well as to their own employees. In schools this would mean staff, students and visitors. This will need to take account of any possible risks resulting from rearrangement of thoroughfares and fire exits as well as of the risks arising from disturbance of ACMs.
During and after removal/disturbance of non-licensable ACMs
- Where unlicensed ACMs are being removed or disturbed, are all control measures identified in the risk assessment being properly adhered to?
- Has the work area and the decontamination area been properly cordoned off and, where necessary, signposted “Asbestos – Cancer Hazard – Keep Out”?
- Does the process comply with the criteria set out in this briefing, i.e. licensed contractors only, using negative pressure units, 3-stage airlocks and personal decontamination units? Has an independent accredited third party carried out a full clearance inspection and monitoring prior to the removal of enclosures?
- Has the school employer informed all staff about any possible exposure to asbestos which might have occurred, recorded the possible exposure to asbestos on employees’ personal files and advised staff to have the possible exposure recorded on their medical records?
NUT Safety Representatives are furthermore advised to satisfy themselves that their school complies with the duty to manage asbestos in the workplace, also contained within the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The NUT briefing ‘Asbestos in Schools’, available on the NUT website at is an authoritative guide on dealing with asbestos in general, and the duty to manage requirements in particular.
NUT Health and Safety Unit
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 -
Approved Code of Practice -
NUT Health and Safety Briefing ‘Asbestos in Schools’ -
TUC Asbestos guidance and information is available at -
Further information from the HSE on asbestos, and specifically asbestos in schools, is available at -
NUT Health and Safety Briefing: Asbestos and Textured Decorative CoatingsJune 2015
 It should also be borne in mind that there may be occasions on which the findings of a risk assessment by the contractor lead to the conclusion that the type of work involved would result in the legal exposure limit being exceeded, thereby making the work licensable in any case. Such factors might be a significantly higher proportion of asbestos in the material than normal, or the material being more friable than normal, etc.
The long-standing policy of the NUT is that any form of asbestos removal should only be undertaken when the school is not occupied, ie during holidays, weekends or evenings. Only in exceptional circumstances should removal proceed when the school is in session, and then only where the area where removal is taking place is in a physically separate part of the school from the occupied areas, or capable of being properly sealed off.
Where the results of air monitoring show that the relevant control limit has been unexpectedly exceeded, employers should tell employees and safety representatives as quickly as possible and give details of the reasons for what happened and the action taken or proposed.