Over 20 years ago, the UK implemented a complete ban on the supply and use of asbestos in construction. However, the lasting effects continue to pose risks, prompting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to initiate a new campaign aimed at safeguarding individuals from potential asbestos hazards in the future1.

Past Uses of Asbestos

In the past, Britain held a prominent position as one of the leading importers of asbestos globally. This was primarily due to its exceptional versatility and properties, which made it highly suitable for various applications such as insulation, fire protection, reinforcement, and other purposes. As a result, asbestos may still be present in buildings built prior to 20002 meaning many workers involved in the maintenance, refurbishment or demolition of older buildings still face a significant level of risk.

The Health Risks

Inhaling asbestos fibres can result in various severe diseases, primarily affecting the lungs or the outer lining of the lungs known as the pleura. These diseases encompass different forms of cancer and chronic conditions like asbestosis and pleural thickening3.

All of these diseases have a prolonged latency period, meaning it takes several decades for symptoms to manifest after asbestos exposure4. However, certain cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer can progress rapidly and prove fatal shortly after the onset of the disease. Conditions like asbestosis may gradually worsen over time, significantly impacting daily activities and potentially leading to fatal complications5.

  Did you know?6

  • Asbestos is still the UK’s biggest workplace killer.
  • There are over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths per year.
  • There were 537 deaths in 2021 mentioning asbestosis on the death certificate.

The Insurance Position

From 2003, insurers started to endorse liability policies to exclude asbestos from both Employers and Public Liability. Initially, there was an absolute exclusion, although after the initial outcry, some insurers relaxed the condition slightly to cover “accidental exposure”. This provides limited cover for anyone who discovers asbestos where it had not been expected, provided that they immediately stop all work and call in a specialist asbestos removal company to safely dispose of it.

The cover is usually on an aggregate basis, with an inner limit on the policy, and often has a much lower level of cover than the total indemnity limit on the policy.

All commercial buildings which were built prior to 2000 must have an asbestos register, so any work for refurbishment should contain a plan for any known asbestos present in the building. On new build sites on brownfield land, it can be more difficult, as asbestos may be buried in the ground. Ground surveys do not always show the presence of asbestos, but it’s essential that a risk assessment is undertaken prior to work starting, based on the assumption that asbestos may be present.

It’s therefore essential that all employees and sub-contractors are aware of the position and know how to recognise and report any discovery of asbestos. Failure to do so could not only invalidate any insurance cover, but could also lead to a criminal prosecution.

The Latest HSE Campaign

Launched on 15th January 2024, the HSE's latest campaign, 'Asbestos: Your Duty', aims to enhance understanding of the legal duty to manage asbestos. As part of this leading initiative, the HSE urges anyone with responsibilities for buildings to ensure full compliance with the law and prevent exposure to this dangerous substance7.

The duty to manage asbestos in buildings covers the following8:

  • All non-domestic premises, like factories or shops
  • ‘Common parts’ of multi-occupancy domestic premises, like purpose-built flats

The duty to manage asbestos is part of the Control of Asbestos Regulations. It requires the person who has the duty (the ‘duty holder’) to9:

  • Assess if there are asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) present, the amount, where they are and their condition
  • Presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they don’t
  • Make, and keep up to date, a record or register of the location and condition of the ACMs or presumed ACMs
  • Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to airborne fibres from the ACMs
  • Write an asbestos management plan to manage the risk, put the plan into action, monitor it and review it every 12 months or sooner if necessary
  • Monitor the condition of any ACMs or suspected ACMs
  • Provide information on the location and condition of the ACMs to anyone who may work on or disturb them, including the emergency services

Updated information, new templates (including an asbestos management plan template), and explanatory videos can be found on the HSE's website to assist anyone who is unsure of their legal duties or simply needs a refresher on what is required - click here10.

Next Steps

If you would like to speak with our specialist team regarding your asbestos risk, legal obligations, or any other aspect of your health and safety risk management, including asbestos awareness training approved by the UK Asbestos Training Association (a leading association dedicated to improving the quality and standards of asbestos training), please contact us at 0800 138 7538.


The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/ or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.

Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered Office: Spectrum Building, 55 Blythswood Street, Glasgow, G2 7AT. Registered in Scotland. Company Number: SC108909.