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Your questions answered by the British Safety Council

24 November 2022

Each issue, British Safety Council will use this page to answer YOUR questions. Please send any problems, issues or general enquiries about health, safety and wellbeing to policy@britsafe.org and their experts will respond in future issues.

Q: I am a self-employed electrician. Can you tell me what my responsibilities are in terms of handling asbestos, given I am not always the main contractor on site?

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAW), those planning to carry out building, maintenance and similar work in or on premises, plant and equipment that could contain asbestos must assess – and then eliminate or adequately control – the risk of their employees or others being exposed to the substance. 

If this work is being done in a domestic setting the responsibility will remain with you as householders are not deemed suitably competent this however does not apply in a commercial setting where you may be working alongside other trades. This means that, before starting any work that could disturb asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), or suspected ACMs you need to be clear as to who is co-ordinating the works. If you are the main person responsible for doing the work, you must identify whether asbestos is present and determine its type and condition. 

If no information is available, you should have the area surveyed and get samples of the material due to be worked on analysed. Alternatively, assume any material that will need to be disturbed contains asbestos and take the appropriate precautions for the highest risk situation. If it’s not possible to avoid the risk, then identify who might be at risk and the possible level of asbestos exposure and decide if the work needs to be carried out by an HSE-licensed asbestos contractor.

Q: My boss recently told me and other colleagues to set up the tower we use for our work as painters and decorators above ground floor level, but we’ve not been trained. Do you have any advice?

Like all access equipment, tower scaffolds must only be erected, used and dismantled by trained and competent people. This is important because the safety and stability of a tower can be easily disturbed, which could either cause you and your colleagues to fall from the tower or cause the tower to overturn. For example, a tower can be made dangerous if the platform guard rails are missing, kick boards are not fixed properly or if a ladder is placed on top of the platform.

Towers should only be assembled and dismantled using one of two methods recognised as safe by HSE and PASMA, the trade association for the mobile access tower industry. 

Tower scaffolds must also feature suitable edge protection, such as double guard rails and toe boards, to prevent people or materials falling from them. There must also be a safe way of getting to and from the working platform, such as a built-in internal ladder. It must be placed on firm, level ground with the locked castors or base plates properly supported. 

Q: I recently heard that it’s my legal duty as an employer to assess the risk of stress in my workplace. Can that be right?

Yes. As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your staff from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. To help employers eliminate or control the risk of ill health from work-related stress, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed a set of Management Standards.

The standards provide an organisational framework for employers and employees to work together to identify and then eliminate or reduce the risk of harmful stress at work. The standards are designed to help employers identify the underlying causes – or potential causes – of work-related stress. They also set out a step-by-step process for employers and employees – or employee representatives – to work together to identify the most effective ways of removing or reducing the risk of harmful stress by improving aspects of the work design.

You can find out more about your legal duties and best practice in managing stress here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/overview.htm

Don’t forget to submit YOUR questions to policy@britsafe.org