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24th September, 2018

Why Asbestos Isn't Covered By COSHH (And What You Need To Do)

If you are wondering if asbestos is covered by the COSHH regulations, the answer is no. But why not? Asbestos is a hazardous substance. It's one of the most hazardous substances there is.

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

Asbestos is one of the most hazardous materials you could be exposed to. Its fibres are deadly, killing over 4000 people in the UK every year, and there is no cure for most asbestos-related diseases.

Ok, so we know asbestos is hazardous. And we understand that the COSHH regulations apply to substances hazardous to health. You would expect asbestos to be covered by the COSHH regulations, but it isn't, why not?

Why isn't asbestos covered by the COSHH Regulations?

Asbestos isn't covered by the COSHH regulations, in fact, it's specifically excluded. But the reason isn't that it's not a hazardous substance, far from it, it's because asbestos is so hazardous it has its own regulations.

5.—(1) Regulations 6 to 13 shall have effect with a view to protecting persons against a risk to their health, whether immediate or delayed, arising from exposure to substances hazardous to health except—

(a)where and to the extent that the following Regulations apply, namely[...]

(iii)the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002(3);

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

While asbestos isn't covered by the COSHH regulations, it is mentioned, and the reason for its exclusion is that another set of regulations apply, the Asbestos at Work Regulations (more on that later).

Do you need to carry out a COSHH assessment for asbestos?

The COSHH Regulations place a duty on employers to carry out COSHH assessments for any hazardous substances their workforce may be exposed to. Asbestos is a hazardous substance when it is disturbed and in dust form.

But we have just seen that asbestos is excluded from regulations 6-13 of the COSHH regulations. Do we need to carry out a COSHH assessment for asbestos?

No.

Regulation 5 of the COSHH regulations states that the requirement to carry out COSHH assessments (among other COSHH requirements) does not apply to asbestos.

In fact, all of the employer duties when it comes to COSHH including assessment, controls, monitoring and surveillance are excluded.

But these are clearly things you need when it comes to dealing with deadly asbestos fibres. So let's turn our attention instead to the regulations that do apply.

What do you need to do instead of COSHH when it comes to asbestos?

Just because asbestos is excluded from COSHH, doesn't mean that there are no requirements to assess the risks associated with asbestos, actually, there are stricter requirements when dealing with asbestos, due to the high-risk nature of the substance.

Asbestos is so important, it has its own regulations and the duties and requirements relating to asbestos are covered under this specific legislation, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations.

All types of asbestos have been banned in the UK since 2000, but that doesn't mean it is no longer a risk. It is still present in hundreds of thousands of buildings because it was used to heavily in the past.

asbestos demolition
Asbestos regulations apply to construction work and normal building occupation

While you don't need to do a COSHH assessment for asbestos, the asbestos regulations do require suitable and sufficient assessments to be carried out depending on the activities and type of work being undertaken.

If you need help assessing the risk from asbestos you can use our asbestos risk assessment template and the asbestos removal risk assessment template.

And there are very strict requirements for the types of surveys that are needed to be carried out, depending on the use of a building or structure, and of the type of training, and even licenses needed, to disturb (or be at risk of disturbing) asbestos.

For example, in the normal occupation of non-domestic premises, the requirement is to assess whether asbestos is or is liable to be present in the premises. Action must them be taken as a result of that assessment for monitoring and protecting the asbestos-containing materials from disturbance where they are not removed.

Where demolition, maintenance or any other work which is liable to expose employees to asbestos is being carried in any premises, the regulations place a duty on employers to ensure a suitable and sufficient survey is carried out to identify asbestos, the type and condition, prior to commencing work.

Any asbestos found needs to be protected from disturbance, sealed or removed following appropriate methods of work (licensed or non-licensed) and there are requirements for notifying the certain authorities before some types of removal work can commence.

The regulations include a duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises, use the asbestos management plan template to set out your procedures.

The asbestos regulations cover a whole range of duties from the need to identify and manage asbestos to the licensing, notification and prevention of exposure and emergency arrangements.


Asbestos isn't the only hazardous substances excluded from the COSHH regulations. There are other substances which are also exempt because they are managed under other regulations including the Coal Mines (Respirable Dust) Regulations, and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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