26th October, 2022

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

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. Its fibres are deadly, killing around 5000 people in the UK every year.

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

The COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations apply to all hazardous substances. And asbestos is one of the most hazardous materials you could be exposed to. It's deadly.

asbestos fibres sharp

Ok, so we know that 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.

If asbestos is a hazardous substance, why is it not covered by COSHH?

Why isn't asbestos covered by the COSHH Regulations?

Asbestos isn't covered by the COSHH regulations - it's specifically excluded.

All types of asbestos are banned in the UK, and have been since 2000. But that doesn't mean it is no longer a risk, and it's not why it's excluded from COSHH. Asbestos is still present in hundreds of thousands of buildings because it was used so heavily in the past.

But it's not excluded because it's not a hazardous substance - far from it. Asbestos fibres are deadly, and there is no cure for most asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos kills around 5000 people in the UK each year.

asbestos-related deaths chart

Asbestos is excluded from COSHH because it is so hazardous that it has its own set of 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—

  1. where and to the extent that the following Regulations apply, namely[...]
    • (iii) the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002(3);

Asbestos would be covered under the COSHH regulations, if it didn't already have another set of regulations - the Asbestos at Work Regulations (more on that later).

So while asbestos isn't covered by the COSHH regulations, it is mentioned within COSHH. And the reason for its exclusion is that another set of regulations apply instead.

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

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

No, you don't 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. Regulation 5 of the COSHH regulations state that the requirement to carry out COSHH assessments (among other COSHH requirements) does not apply to asbestos.

In fact, all of the employer duties under COSHH - including assessment, controls, monitoring and surveillance - are excluded. But that does not mean you don't need to assess, control and monitor asbestos in your workplace. You do. Just not under COSHH.

Let's turn our attention instead to the regulations that do apply, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations.

What do you need to do instead of COSHH for asbestos?

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

Asbestos is such a serious health hazard that it has its own regulations - the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. The duties and requirements relating to asbestos are covered under this specific legislation, instead of the broader COSHH regulations.

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 demolition

You might not need to do a COSHH assessment for asbestos, but you do need to assess the risk from asbestos. The asbestos regulations require suitable and sufficient assessments to be carried out. And this will usually start with an asbestos survey, 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.

There are very strict requirements for the type of asbestos survey needed depending on the use of a building or structure, and the type of asbestos training - and even licenses - needed, to disturb (or be at risk of disturbing) asbestos.

For example, in the normal occupation of non-domestic premises, you need to assess whether asbestos is or is liable to be present on the premises. Action must 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, before commencing work.

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

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

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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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