IOSH asbestos policy position

Asbestos is a major cause of work-related deaths in the world, with past exposure causing at least 107,000 deaths each year. Around 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at work. Asbestos risk is so serious that many countries have now banned its use, including all countries in the EU, and IOSH supports worldwide efforts to eliminate exposure risk.

Because all types of asbestos fibres are potentially harmful, IOSH believes people must be protected from inhaling them and that risk management principles should be embedded throughout administrations and education and training systems worldwide.

The facts

  • Four main diseases are associated with the inhalation of asbestos fibres: asbestosis, mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and diffuse pleural thickening.
  • Asbestos is a major cause of work-related deaths worldwide, with past exposure causing at least 107,000 deaths a year and around 125 million people currently exposed at work.
  • Although asbestos has been banned in many countries now, huge quantities remain from original installations.
  • In the UK, it is illegal to import, supply and use all forms of asbestos, and it is also illegal to re-use second-hand asbestos products like asbestos cement sheets, boards and tiles – regulations impose controls for safely managing existing asbestos.
  • However, asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with past exposure causing around 5,000 deaths a year including 2,595 mesothelioma deaths in 2016, together with estimated thousands of other asbestos-related deaths.
  • It is estimated that 1.8 million tradespeople are still at risk in the UK.
  • IOSH’s No Time to Lose occupational cancer prevention campaign is raising awareness of the need to take action to prevent exposure to asbestos

Our position

IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign highlights asbestos as a major cause of work-related cancer deaths across the world and aims to help organisations and administrations prevent exposures to this and other causes of occupational cancers worldwide.

Because all types of asbestos fibres are potentially harmful, IOSH believes that people should be protected from inhaling them. These include chrysotile (white asbestos) which, though less dangerous than crocidolite and amosite (blue and brown asbestos), is potentially harmful in its own right and is often found in a mixed form with other types of asbestos.

Employers, and those responsible for non-domestic premises, need to manage asbestos risk. They should have their property checked for asbestos using a competent person and may need to use an accredited asbestos surveyor.

If existing asbestos-containing material (ACM) is in good condition it can be left in place. But the ACM (or assumed ACM) must be recorded, appropriately labelled, monitored, managed and not disturbed. If it is in poor condition, it must be sealed or safely removed by a competent person and any remaining asbestos must be recorded in an asbestos register.

To prevent exposure to asbestos fibres, information about its presence must be provided to anyone likely to disturb it. This is important not only in demolition, but also during refurbishment and maintenance. Those responsible should also ensure periodic checks on the condition of remaining asbestos, to ensure that the decision for it to remain stays valid. All of this together forms an asbestos management plan and is far wider than a survey or register.

IOSH’s wider message around embedding risk management principles into education and training systems is fundamentally important here, so that everyone at work understands asbestos risks and how to help keep themselves (and others) safe and healthy.

IOSH resources

Guides and online tools:

Consultation responses:

Research reports: