Thousands of local children could be at risk if plans to relax tough anti-asbestos legislation get the green light, warns a leading legal expert.
Adrian Budgen, a partner with Newcastle-based personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell, says recently announced Government plans will place children at an even greater risk from the dangers of asbestos than at present.
He was commenting on a Health & Safety Executive consultation paper on the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations.
The changes will see textured coatings containing asbestos, such as artex used in houses and schools, taken off the list of materials that only licensed contractors can remove.
The regulations are due to come into force next year and will mean that any contractor will be able to remove textured coatings containing asbestos, irrespective of adequate training, supervision or insurance.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has taken advantage of the opportunity presented by new European proposals intended to increase worker protection from asbestos, to relax UK laws instead.
Medical evidence obtained in previous legal cases has proven that young children are particularly at risk from asbestos because their lungs are still developing.
Adrian Budgen believes that if current regulation is relaxed it could open the way for unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of the opportunities for work, placing children's lives at risk.
"No research has been done to assess the level of risk and this is another time bomb just waiting to go off.
"If the HSE proposals go through it may open the floodgates to even more claims for asbestos compensation in the years to come for today's generation of children.
"Existing legislation is simply not tough enough and any relaxation has to been seen as a huge backward step.
"We are strongly backing the position of the unions and Asbestos Removal Contractors Association on this matter and share their alarms.
"We hope that during the consultation period, which ends in February, the HSE sees sense and reconsiders it position as a matter of priority."