Ministers should set a 40-year deadline for the removal of all remaining asbestos from public and commercial buildings, MPs have said.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said while the “extreme exposures” of the late 20th century may be a thing of the past, asbestos remained the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with more than 5,000 fatalities recorded in 2019.
It warned that the problem was likely to become worse as the retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero requirements meant more asbestos-containing materials would be disturbed in the coming decades.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that despite being banned for more than 20 years, asbestos may still be present in 300,000 non-domestic buildings and in many more homes.
While both the HSE and the Government have said they believed it should be removed, the committee said that neither had put forward a “clear and comprehensive strategy” for achieving this.
It called for a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings, with a plan focusing on the removal of the “highest risk asbestos” first, with early removal from the highest risk settings such as schools.
“Simple reliance on a set of regulations which devolve asbestos management to individual dutyholders – the building owners or managers responsible for maintenance – will not be good enough,” the committee said.
“We need a pan-government and ‘system-wide’ strategy for the long-term removal of asbestos, founded on strong evidence of what is best from a scientific, epidemiological, and behavioral point of view.”
The committee chairman, Stephen Timms, said: “Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and while the extreme exposures of the late 20th century are now behind us, the risk from asbestos remains real.
“The drive towards retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero aspirations means the risk of asbestos exposure will only escalate in the coming decades.
“Setting a clear deadline of 40 years for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings will help to focus minds.
“The clock is ticking and the Government and HSE must now come up with a strategic plan which builds the evidence on safer removal and prioritises higher risk settings such as schools.”