Our latest technical questions and answers

April 2022

Hundreds of people contact our health and safety helpline, seeking advice on topics ranging from working at height to hazardous substances, public safety to PPE, risk assessments to regulations.

These queries are answered by our friendly team of experts.

We recognise that many of the issues raised will be of interest to our wider membership. So, as part of an ongoing series, here are edited versions of some of the latest questions and answers.

Asbestos exposure

Question A tradesperson has sawed a door that was subsequently identified to contain an asbestos panel. A full investigation into the incident is being carried out. Does the tradesperson need to attend hospital/see a GP and does it need to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)?

Answer For anyone who has been inadvertently exposed to asbestos, the HSE offers the following general information.

People who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos are understandably anxious and concerned about the possible effects on their health. Many cases of inadvertent, short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely have led to minimal exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects.

Although the type of asbestos involved and duration of exposure may be known, there may be little reliable information about the level of exposure. These are all important factors in determining the level of risk – the more fibres that are released by an asbestos-containing material, and the longer the work activity lasts, the greater the cumulative exposure to asbestos fibres and, therefore, an increased risk of ill health effects.

Some work activities are more likely to create a significant concentration of asbestos fibres in the air, and therefore, add to the risk if suitable precautions are not in place, for example:

  • use of power tools (to drill, cut etc) on most asbestos-containing materials (ACMs)
  • work that leads to physical disturbance (knocking, breaking, smashing) of an ACM that should only be handled by a licensed contractor eg sprayed coating, lagging, asbestos insulating board (AIB)
  • manually cutting or drilling AIB
  • work involving aggressive physical disturbance of asbestos cement eg breaking or smashing.

Some asbestos-containing materials release fibres more easily than others. For detailed information on types of asbestos-containing material and the likelihood of fibre release, see Appendix 2 (page 53) of Asbestos: The survey guide.

If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos from work activities, you are advised to consult your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record, including date(s), duration, type of asbestos and likely exposure levels (if known). In some circumstances, your GP may refer you to a specialist in respiratory medicine. HSE does not advocate routine X-rays for people who have had an inadvertent exposure to asbestos. Asbestos-related damage to the lungs takes years to develop and becomes visible on chest X-rays. X-ray examinations cannot indicate whether or not asbestos fibres have been inhaled.

Regarding the second part of your enquiry, the HSE offers the following information on when inadvertent exposure to asbestos would constitute a reportable incident under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

Exposure to asbestos is reportable under RIDDOR when a work activity causes the accidental release or escape of asbestos fibres into the air in a quantity sufficient to cause damage to the health of any person. Such situations are likely to arise when work is carried out without suitable controls, or where those controls fail – they often involve (see four bullet points listed above).

If these activities are carried out without suitable controls, or the precautions fail to control exposure, these would be classed as a ‘dangerous occurrence’ under RIDDOR and should be reported.

Legal requirements for fire wardens in a hybrid working world

Question I understand it’s a legal requirement to appoint fire wardens/marshals, but can you advise on the following points:

  • In a low-risk office, how many wardens/marshals do you need?
  • As it’s a voluntary position, what happens if nobody volunteers?
  • What happens in a hybrid working situation when the wardens/marshals may be home based some of the time? Do you always need to have them in the office and, if so, how many?

Answer The employer ‘responsible person’ has a legal duty under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) “to nominate a sufficient number of competent persons to implement those procedures in so far as they relate to the evacuation of relevant persons from the premises”.

If nobody volunteers, the employer still has a duty to nominate sufficient numbers to assist them in their duties under the above legislation. Additionally, employees have general duties under the same legislation to co-operate so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.

With regards to hybrid working and whether it is still a legal requirement to have fire wardens/marshals in the office at all times, the simple answer is ‘yes’. The employer has a legal duty to nominate sufficient numbers of competent persons, and consideration should be given to covering holidays, sickness etc.

The number of such competent persons required should be based on the findings of the fire risk assessment required under article 9. The assessment should take into consideration factors including the level of fire hazard present, the number of people likely to be present, the layout of the workplace etc.

For guidance, check out the fire marshal requirements calculator produced by St John Ambulance.

What to include in a health and safety manual

Question I am looking to put together a health and safety file/manual for a client, something that will contain everything to do with their health and safety. What should the document contain?

Answer Health and safety legislation does provide a brief definition of what a health and safety ‘policy’ should cover, ie that it should explain how an employer will manage health and safety in their business and should clearly say who does what, when and how.

However, as there is no formally agreed definition of what a health and safety ‘file’ or ‘manual’ should cover, the contents of such documents can vary quite widely.

Read IOSH’s article – what is a health and safety policy?

Check out the following examples of health and safety manuals:

You may also find the following example health and safety polices useful:

Covid-19 risk assessments

Question Do businesses still need to complete Covid-19 risk assessments now that restrictions have been lifted in the UK?

Answer Employers still have a duty to protect their employees. The Gov.UK website states: As an employer, you must by law protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. This includes risks from Covid-19.

Covid-19 transmission is a hazard that can occur in the workplace. You must manage it in the same way as other workplace hazards. This includes:

  • completing a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks of Covid-19 in the workplace
  • identifying control measures to manage that risk.

The latest information from the HSE states: As an employer, you must protect people from harm. This includes doing a risk assessment to decide what reasonable steps you need to take to protect your workers and others from coronavirus (Covid-19).

A generic risk assessment is unlikely to be specific or detailed enough. For example, it might not identify adequate ventilation requirements or sufficient cleaning controls for particular areas and circumstances.

Your risk assessment should reflect the public health regulations and guidelines for the nation you’re in.

Check out IOSH’s resources and read guidance from the HSE.

Got a technical question?

The above questions and responses mostly relate to UK law, so please contact the helpline or your own regulatory body for information relevant to your country.

Call the IOSH health and safety helpline on +44 (0)116 257 3199 or send an email.

If you have any questions relating to your IOSH membership, please call +44 (0)116 350 0800 or email our Customer Service Centre.

Read our previous q&a article.

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Ali Barlow
Content Officer +44 (0)116 257 3117
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