Agencies failing to protect asbestos-removal workers

A government watchdog has warned a host of employment agencies after they were found to have advertised for asbestos-removal workers without properly checking the health and safety implications of the work
involved.

The Employment Agency Standards (EAS) inspectorate received intelligence that employment agencies were advertising vacancies for asbestos-removal workers without checking if they had the proper HSE licenses. Although no workers had been placed in any roles, the regulator found that the agencies weren’t taking the necessary steps to protect them from risk.

Of the 12 agencies investigated, 11 were found to be in breach of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. A total of 57 infringements of the law were identified, including:

a failure to explore the health and safety implications of the advertised work with the client business (hirer);
a failure to check the identity, qualifications, experience and training of the worker they intended to post in a role; and
a failure to have authority from hiring companies to advertise the positions.
Warning letters were subsequently issued to 11 agencies outlining that if they did not comply with the Regulations, then they could face criminal proceedings, or a possible ban from trading of up to 10 years.

The Government is currently running advertisements on hoardings, buses and phone boxes to encourage agency workers to seek advice about their workplace rights and report abuses through a confidential Pay and Work Rights helpline.

Employment relations minister Lord Young said: “The Government has done a lot to improve rights at work but it’s also essential to make sure these rights are properly enforced. A simple system for reporting abuses and giving advice and information to employers and workers is a critical part of that.

“The recession should not become an excuse to deny people their basic rights at work.”

The warnings came in the same week that the HSE launched its Hidden Killer campaign. Aimed at tradesmen, the campaign is seeking to raise awareness of asbestos among this high-risk group.

Steve Coldrick, the HSE’s asbestos programme director, said: “Asbestos is a killer. It claims about 4000 lives a year – more than die in road accidents. It should be of no concern to the general public if it remains undisturbed and in good condition, but the same cannot be said for tradespeople who may come across it in their work.

“While they need to take responsibility for their own health and safety, it is imperative that this is matched with a commitment by their employer to do the same.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “We welcome this government warning. It’s vital agencies and employers take the health and safety of agency workers seriously.

“Asbestos has posed a long-running threat to generations of British workers, many of whom have faced an early death because they were not told about the hidden killer in their workplaces.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was not able to disclose the names of the agencies when contacted by SHP.