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Asbestos Issue at Westminster a ‘Real and Rising Risk’

Asbestos Issue at Westminster a ‘Real and Rising Risk’
18 May 2023 | Updated 22 May 2023

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the plan to repair and restore the Palace of Westminster, predicting that the building will be destroyed by “a catastrophic incident before the work is done”.

Since 2016 there have been eight asbestos incidents in the Palace and wider parliamentary estate.


Asbestos at 2,500 Sites Across Parliamentary Estate


The Restoration & Renewal Delivery Authority reported that asbestos could be found at 2,500 sites, including within inaccessible areas such as pipe lagging, ducts and voids.  They also estimate that removing asbestos from the Palace could require an estimated 300 people working for two and a half years while the site was not being used.

The Public Accounts Committee says that, progress has been painfully slow on the restoration project with “years of procrastination” and significant parliamentary decisions being reopened and overturned. They also report that parliament is spending up to £2 million a week patching up the palace.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee said: “After years of procrastination and debate, resolutions of the House overturned and the exploding costs we saw in restoring just the Elizabeth Tower, it is difficult to have confidence in the future of the project to repair and restore this iconic world heritage site that thousands of people work in and visit every day. 

But without parliament and the public having that confidence these critical works will continue to stall, with the real risk that the whole building will be destroyed by a catastrophic incident before the work is done, or perhaps even begun. There are already people on decades-long risk watchlists after being exposed to asbestos in the building; a building that’s leaking, dropping masonry and at constant risk of fire.”

Tim Turney from advanced air sampling monitoring company Casella, said that when works begin, it is vital that the correct safety measures are in place to protect those who may become involved in the enormous task to save the UNESCO World Heritage Site:

"Whenever asbestos is removed, it is a legal requirement to use licenced contractors and to ensure strict regulations and guidance are followed to limit the potential release of dangerous, airborne fibres. The guidance, depending on national practice, typically includes personal air sampling and/or static air sampling, to ensure that there is no exposure during remediation work or during the cleaning and clearance processes at a removal site.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with 5,000 deaths recorded in 2022. And Britain has the highest rate of mesothelioma cases in the world.

Picture: a photograph of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Image Credit: Pixabay

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 18 May 2023


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