Asbestos Awareness Campaign


Setting the Scene

Asbestos is the biggest occupational health problem ever encountered in the UK, and it is a problem that is set to get worse over the coming twenty or so years. The fifteen year plus latency period of asbestos means that positive efforts made now to reduce the effect of this killer disease will not be realised for some time. However, to do nothing is not an option.

Asbestos was used extensively in building materials in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid 1970s. Although much of this material has been removed over the years there are many thousands of tonnes of asbestos still present in buildings. Indeed, it is estimated that over 1.5 million workplace properties currently have some form of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in them. Whilst the materials remain in good condition, and are left undisturbed, they pose no risk; however, they have the potential to cause death if they are not properly managed.

Asbestos legislation has tended to deal with situations where it is known that asbestos is present in the working environment, such as the industries where asbestos was used or produced, or where it was being removed by specialist contractors. Recent changes tightened and refocused existing asbestos Regulations to make it clearer that they applied to any worker liable to be exposed to asbestos, including those in the building trades.

The Regulation

However, a vital piece of the regulatory jigsaw puzzle was missing. Time and time again maintenance workers carry out work whilst unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos because no one is effectively addressing that risk. Hence the proposed new Regulation to manage the risks from asbestos in buildings.

Response to the Consultative Document, issued in Summer 2000, was encouraging, with overwhelming support for the introduction of the intended new duty. However, there were comments suggesting a need to reconsider certain points of detail: these include the identification of the 'duty holder' and an extension of the scope of the regulation beyond 'workplace premises'.

It is important that these two issues are fully considered in the revision of the draft regulation. With the probable need for a further public consultation exercise it is likely that the regulations will be made towards the end of 2001

One of the declared aims of the new Regulation is to reduce asbestos related fatalities by over 6,000 in the next 50 years, with the main benefits kicking in after 2015. It is realised that for this to be achieved the HSE will need to do more than just launch the Regulation; it will need to actively promote the duty and provide practical support to ensure effective implementation. It is planned for this to be encouraged through a supporting awareness campaign.

Target Audience

Although it is recognised that there are significant issues still being considered which impact on the scope of the Regulation, it is possible to identify that the task of communicating and engaging with the intended target audience, i.e. the duty holder, is not going to be an easy one.

Many of the 1.5 million workplace properties that have been assumed to be still containing ACMs are occupied by small and medium sized enterprises. It is this group that has been identified for particular attention during the campaign in terms of additional practical support.

The Message

In addition to detailing the health risks associated with asbestos, together with duty holder's responsibilities, the campaign will look to offer positive and, for some, practical advice on the effective implementation of the various elements of the regulation. This will include the means of identifying the asbestos related risk, and how to manage that risk.

Overall Strategy

HSE will deliver a three to five year campaign to support the making of the Regulation.

Year 1 of the campaign will consist of a series of conferences and workshops to promote awareness of the duty. There will be an official launch of the duty, trailed by a number of press articles and other publicity initiatives.

Year 2 of the campaign will involve inspectors (both HSE and Local Authority) carrying out a number of head office visits to significant duty holders, and a mail shot exercise designed to reach small and medium sized enterprises. Year 3 (and following years) will consist of a number of targeted visits with consequential en-forcement action.

This approach links in well with the proposed two year lead in period for the Regulation.

The campaign will incorporate an independent evaluation exercise to measure its impact on attitudes and practices, involving a baseline study and follow up at the end of the 3 year period.

The remainder of this Information Sheet concentrates on the activities planned for the first year of the campaign.

The First Year of the Campaign

Fundamentally we are looking to implement a two tier strategy for the first year of the campaign. The first level, aimed at all duty holders, is geared to raise general awareness of the new Regulation and provide written guidance on the means of complying with the duty. The second is a higher level of practical support directed specifically to meet the additional needs of the small and medium sized enterprises.

First Level - Press Campaign

A high profile event is planned for the launching of the new Regulation when it is made at the end of 2001. The aim is to stimulate wide ranging interest and support from the national press and professional journals etc. and thus promoting the message to our intended audience i.e. the duty holder. Copies of the Regulation and supporting ACoP will be made available through HSE Books.

In addition to articles appearing periodically in the technical/professional press further directed press promotions are envisaged during this first year of the campaign following the making of the Regulation. Running at six monthly intervals the message will move from promoting awareness to encouraging compliance with the Regulation.

First Level - Roadshow

An early phase of the campaign, planned for the late summer of 2001, will include a programme of five regional Asbestos Roadshows. Delivering to anticipated audiences of around 200 key organisations, each event will promote the requirements of the new duty to manage asbestos and provide supporting advice on compliance with its varying elements.

First Level - Guidance Material

This awareness element of the campaign to be underpinned by the availability of related guidance material i.e. a free leaflet on the duty to manage asbestos, technical guidance for practitioners such as MDHS 100 and Asbestos Essentials, and the video 'How Are You Today?' aimed at both the contractor and the duty holder.

Much of the information is to be made available via the intended HSE 'Asbestos Campaign' Internet site.

Second Level - Targeted Activities

Moving on to the second level of the strategy i.e. the more targeted activity, we need to remind ourselves of the size of the task ahead of us. The intention of this element of the campaign is to provide practical support to the small and medium sized enterprises. We identified earlier that we must be talking of an audience size in its millions. It would be impossible to consider HSE delivering practical support to even a very small fraction of that number without the involvement of others. We are therefore looking to engage partners to cascade the HSE messages and to provide practical advice to the intended audience.

So, a key task in ensuring the successful implementation of the campaign is to identify and engage a team of intermediaries to support HSE. This 'identification' programme will be progressed on both the 'informal' and 'formal' levels. The more 'formal' activities include articles in professional journals and in-house newsletters. One of the aims of the Roadshow events is infact to encourage delegates to become 'intermediaries'.

The establishment of the 'partnership' network will trigger the start, in Autumn 2001, of the intended programme of Employer Workshops throughout the UK, providing practical support to the small and medium enterprises. The number of Workshops will be determined by the capacity of those within our 'partnership' network, and the programme is expected to continue during much of the year following the introduction of the Regulation; I am sure that there will be no shortage of demand from the prospective target audience.

Initiatives Supporting the Delivery of the Workshops

In addition to the guidance material mentioned earlier, some of which is still under development, we are actively engaged in developing a Presenter's Pack and associated Workbook for use by the intermediaries in the delivery of the Employer's Workshops. It is intended that the video 'How Are You Today?' will also be included as part of the Presenter's Pack.

The Role of our Partners

Although still in the early stages of development the following offers an indication of our thinking in terms of the role of our 'partners' in the delivery of the employer workshops:

  • picking up the financial risk for the events the 'partners' shall set an appropriate delegate fee
  • need to arrange a suitable venue, including the provision for appropriate refreshments, working on an attendance of up to 25 delegates,
  • development of the presentation material based on prepared speakers notes supplied by HSE (see more) arrangements for the use of guest speakers where appropriate
  • local promotion of the workshop(s)
  • delivery of the workshop(s)

In support of our 'partners' activities HSE is currently arranging for the following:

  • a set of speaker's notes, including a supporting Power Point presentation
  • delegate workbook (four ring binder) to include standard handouts based on the 'speakers notes' plus material for suggested written exercises
  • copy of the video 'How are You Today?', which is to be an integral part of the presentation
  • copy of the free leaflet 'Managing Asbestos in Premises' (a working title)

It is intended that the 'speaker's notes' and the material forming the 'delegate workbook' shall be available via HSE's web site, whilst the remaining material shall be delivered on request to our 'partners'.


A final thought. The numbers of those dying from asbestos related diseases is rising and will continue to rise for some years. How soon the curve flattens off, and how steep the curve down will be, depends largely on the extent to which the duty holders are compliant with the regulation and on their effectiveness at managing the identified risks from asbestos-containing materials in buildings.

We need your support. To participate as a member of the proposed 'partnership' network contact BRIAN TREVETTE, HSE's Campaign Manager, on 020 7717 6443. Brian will be only too keen to speak with you.

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