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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Councils 'slow' on asbestos rules
Diseased lung
Exposure to asbestos can cause a range of lung diseases
As new laws on a duty to manage asbestos come into force, a BBC Wales investigation has discovered that most councils in Wales are not ready for the new regulations.

The changes come into force later this month, but the radio programme Eye on Wales has discovered that most local authorities are nowhere near ready.

The Vale of Glamorgan Council admits that, so far, it has only surveyed one in seven of its properties to the new standard, and Denbighshire has only carried out a total of 12 new asbestos surveys to date.

Only three Welsh councils surveyed said they would be in a position to comply fully with the new asbestos legislation.

Although asbestos is no longer used as a building material, there is a massive legacy of the material remaining in public buildings, including schools, libraries, offices and factories across Wales.

As electricians and other workers modernise buildings, they run the risk of unwittingly drilling or sawing into asbestos panels.

We have known about the problems of asbestos for a good 30 to 40 years now. Employers should be doing something about it
Tom Melish, TUC
The new Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations have been designed to put an end to that danger - by forcing those in charge of commercial and public buildings to have them properly surveyed, risk assessed and a proper asbestos management plan drawn up and available.

It is estimated this new laws will save over 5,000 lives over the next 50 years.

Eye on Wales has found that while Welsh local authorities do survey their buildings and have policies on asbestos, most have not updated their records to conform to these new laws.

The programme asks why, two years after the regulations were passed, so much work still needs to be done.

The Health and Safety Executive has named Carmarthenshire Council as a good example of what property owners should be doing to meet the new regulations.

Hywel Harris from the council said asbestos was still a huge problem.

"There is a lot of it around," he said. "Asbestos was deemed to be a wonder material, and it was a cheap material.

Private sector

"Unfortunately for us, we have inherited the problems, and we have to manage the problems."

Insurance companies have warned that, while there are concerns about councils, the situation in the private sector could be worse.

Susanna Jeffrey, from the insurance company Zurich, said a survey by her employers showed four out of 10 companies in Wales were not even aware of the new legislation.

Even more alarming was that eight out of 10 had no plans of how they were going to tackle the issue, she said.

Trade unions believe there has been no major improvement since this survey was carried out.

Tom Melish, health and safety policy officer with the TUC, said thousands of members' lives were being unnecessarily put at risk.

"We have had one or two cases of teachers contracting asbestos-related diseases, because of working in buildings which have poor maintenance," he said.

"But it is the repair people, the maintenance people, the telephone and IT engineers, the people who are putting in new equipment - they are the ones drilling into the unknown.

"Companies need to be brought to court. We have known about the problems of asbestos for a good 30 to 40 years now. Employers should be doing something about it."

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