Our responsibilities and HSE's responsibilities for enforcing asbestos laws and what those laws require.

Our asbestos law page gives a summary of the main legal requirements. Further detailed information on asbestos can also found on the HSE website.

We are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation for the operating railway by the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority for Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems) Regulations 2006. This includes all the provisions of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR) except for licensed work with asbestos.

HSE enforcement responsibility for licensed work with asbestos

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has retained responsibility for enforcement in respect of work with asbestos carried out under a licence, as well as the licensing process itself. Work with asbestos is one of the areas covered in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between HSE and ORR, which provides for joint cooperation and technical support.

ORR enforcement responsibility for unlicensed work with asbestos

We have responsibility for enforcement in respect of unlicensed work with asbestos. This work should only involve the occasional exposure of employees to asbestos at a low level; this means that the risk assessment should show that exposure will not exceed the control limit. The work must be:

  • short, non-continuous maintenance work;
  • removal of materials in which the asbestos fibres are firmly enclosed in a matrix, for example asbestos cement;
  • sealing of asbestos-containing materials which are in good condition; or
  • collection and analysis of samples to ascertain whether a specific material contains asbestos.

HSE has produced detailed guidance on safely undertaking unlicensed work with asbestos called asbestos essentials. This guidance also identifies work with asbestos that requires a licence.

The 2012 CAR Regulations introduce new requirements for unlicensed work. From 6 April 2012 some types of this work needs to be notified to the relevant enforcing authority and a brief written record need to be kept, where control limits are likely to be exceeded. Details of the notification process and which work is covered can be found on HSE's website.

ORR's enforcement responsibility for the duty to manage asbestos

In all cases, dutyholders who have control of the maintenance or repair of premises, have a duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises so that it does not expose workers to asbestos and the risk of ill health. More information on the duty and its requirements can be found on the HSE website.

'Premises' has a wide definition and includes all parts of the railway and any buildings therein. It also includes all trains and carriages. In many cases Network Rail will be the dutyholder but there will be cases either contractually or through a lease where the responsibility will pass partly or solely to those occupying or operating from a premise. In complex cases legal advice may be needed to determine responsibilities.

Arranging an asbestos survey

If you are not certain where asbestos is in your premises, you may wish to arrange for an asbestos survey to identify materials that contain it. HSE's website has information on selecting a competent surveyor. An accredited surveyor provides assurance of their competence and a list of surveyors can be found on the United Kingdom Accreditation Service website.

ORR's enforcement responsibility for placing on the market articles containing asbestos

ORR is an enforcing authority for restrictions on the placing on the market of articles containing asbestos under the ‘REACH’ regime. ‘REACH’ is the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals Enforcement Regulations 2008 (as amended) and was brought into UK law on 1 January 2021 under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We do not enforce other aspects of ‘REACH’ but further information on other aspects of REACH can be found on HSE's website.

We also have the authority, at our discretion, to issue asbestos exemption certificates. In December 2023, we issued our third general exemption certificate which authorises placing onto the market railway vehicles, and components for use in railway vehicles, which contain asbestos and which were in service or installed before 1 January 2005. The exemption comes into effect on 1 January 2024 and will allow the controlled sale, lease or loan of second-hand railway vehicles and components which contain asbestos. The exemption covers all railway systems for which we are normally the enforcing authority e.g. rail vehicles on the mainline, London Underground, light rail systems, tramways, heritage railway systems and some people-movers. (note: non-moving exhibits in museums are not within our remit and enquiries should be directed to HSE.)

Anyone wishing to operate under this exemption must be able to demonstrate that they have met its detailed conditions. The certificate contains important guidance on each of the conditions. We have also made available our internal guidance document on this topic (known as RIG-2014-01) which was updated in 2023 and we strongly encourage is read alongside the exemption certificate itself.

The third asbestos exemption certificate will expire on 31 December 2028, although it may be altered or withdrawn at any time. As with the previous exemptions issued in 2014 and 2019, ORR will continue to monitor compliance with the exemption. Our decision to issue the third exemption certificate was informed by a stakeholder survey, details of which will be available on this webpage early in 2024. Our second exemption certificate remains in place until 31 December 2023.