with thanks to the Health and Safety Commission
THE Health and Safety Commission (HSC) has announced an amendment to the Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations 1992, which affects the importation of products containing asbestos and which comes into force today.
The amendment modifies the existing ban on importing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), so that only those where the asbestos has been intentionally added are prohibited from being imported. Minerals for which specific concerns have been expressed over asbestos impurities include olivine, vermiculite, talc, dolomite, hermatite, iron ore, basalt, marble, chrome ore, magnetite and wollastonite.
This brings the importation ban into line with the existing prohibition on supply and use of ACMs, and will ensure that the UK meets obligations under European single market regulations.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which can be found in a wide variety of bedrock, usually only in tiny quantities. Before this amendment the importation ban applied to anything containing asbestos, including those minerals and aggregates that include a small amount as a naturally occurring impurity. This meant that the importation of many minerals from areas where tiny amounts of asbestos are found in the bedrock was technically illegal, irrespective of the level, or the risk, involved.
Another unintended affect of the existing legislation was that the UK was in breach of the European Union's single market rules. This was because the ban on the supply and use of such products in the UK only applied where asbestos had been intentionally added, whereas the same products imported into the UK were banned even when the asbestos was only present as an impurity.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is using this opportunity to highlight the duties on companies that supply or use products containing minerals that could be affected. The advice will emphasise that even quite small amounts of asbestos in a material may give rise to a real risk from asbestos fibres, if it is subjected to a high-energy process like sand or grit blasting, which could cause fibres to be released.
For companies supplying or using any of these minerals, HSE is issuing the following advice:-
Many producers and importers of mineral products already carry out comprehensive testing to prevent materials containing significant quantities of asbestos getting into the supply chain. HSE is now asking all mineral suppliers to re-evaluate their regular sampling regimes to ensure that any asbestos is detected and quantified. Where asbestos is found the material should not be sold unless the amount is trivially small. Even in those cases suppliers must inform their customers that trace quantities of asbestos may occasionally be found in their products. This will allow the "high-energy" users to take appropriate precautions or consider alternative materials.
Any users of these materials are also advised to contact their suppliers to confirm that testing is being done to determine whether the material contains any asbestos and what the test results are. If asbestos is present they should look again to see if their control measures to protect the health of their employees are adequate. In the case of high-energy users, e.g. abrasive blasting, HSE advises that this review should include air monitoring to measure the concentration of any fibres which may have been liberated by their processes. In some cases users may wish to consider switching to alternative materials or processes.
Bill Macdonald, Head of HSE's Asbestos Policy Unit, said:-
"There is no evidence that minerals that contain small amounts of asbestos in them give rise to a serious risk to anyone using them. However, it is essential that importers, suppliers and users do all that they can to reduce the risks still further."
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