ARCA COVID 19 update 24 March 2020
Following the PM’s statement, members have raised questions with regards to ongoing asbestos removal site work.
The following points are covered below:
- What we know currently
- Clients are closing sites and insisting asbestos removal work stops as a result
- What are the implications for further restrictions and is asbestos removal a key worker activity?
What we know currently.
Site work does not have to stop.
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has made this clear in his statement as follows:
- If you can work from home, do so.
- If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing
- Outside of work, remember to stay home and save lives.
Build UK has published advice on their website for site working whilst the threat of COVID-19 exists, ‘Safe Operating procedures protecting your work force’
Clients are closing sites and insisting asbestos removal work stops as a result
Members have informed ARCA that some of their clients are closing sites and are requiring asbestos removal to stop.
These ARCA member asbestos removal contractors are asking about the practicality of stopping mid-way through a job. An element of common sense has to be applied here.
If the enclosure is not yet fully built, then there should be no problem in stopping at this point. If the visual inspection and clearance air test have been completed then there should be no problem stopping at that point. Anything in between needs to be assessed sensibly in terms of the risk that it presents.
If the premises are to be vacant, or it is a demolition site which will be unmanned, it may be possible to ensure the enclosure is robustly constructed and leave the enclosure in stu once the majority of waste has been bagged.
If the location presents more of a risk due to location or proximity to occupants, then the enclosure may need to be cleaned further and asbestos remaining in situ made safe.
The examples given are indicative and each situation will have to be judged on its own merits. The key advice is to use a common sense approach.
If notified works have to be suspended before completion, then a cessation of the ASB5 should be registered. HSE will take a practical and pragmatic approach where this concerned.
What are the implications for further restrictions and is asbestos removal a key worker activity?
ARCA member asbestos removal contractors are asking what the situation would be if further restrictions on activities are imposed by the Government that mean that only key workers activities are permitted. Would asbestos removal work be regarded as key work in this instance?
After reviewing the definitions of the current list of key workers, there is probably sufficient flexibility within the definitions, so that if asbestos removal is necessary to maintain their continued operation, or it is essential to the COVID-19 response, then asbestos removal would be considered as a key worker industry in these circumstances.
This is particularly relevant to the key worker roles included within 'Health and social care', ‘Public safety and national security’ and 'utilities, communication and financial services’ but may possibly be applicable to other key worker definitions.
The assessment as to whether asbestos removal, in these circumstances, can be carried out as a key worker industry role would probably have to be made and justified by the client, who would be a representative of a specified key worker industry and have authority to do this.
For example; if AIB panels had to be removed in a hospital in order to facilitate the installation of oxygen lines, then this would clearly be essential work to assist in the response to COVID-19, and it would be difficult to argue that the asbestos removal contractor did not constitute ‘specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector’. There will be numerous other examples in this and other key worker services.