HEALTH and safety chiefs paved the way last week for non-licensed contractors to be allowed to remove textured coatings which contain asbestos, such as Artex.
A final ruling will be made at a Health and Safety Commission meeting next month.
But a commission statement last week said: 'In the meantime Health & Safety Executive officials have been asked to draft the regulations on the working assumption that work with textured coatings will be delicensed.' The controversial decision forms part of the commission's plan to tighten overall asbestos regulations by introducing reduced exposure levels.
A spokesman said: 'The proposed amendments will strengthen overall worker protection be reducing exposure limits and simplifying the regulatory regime.' HSC research has shown that levels of asbestos fibres in the air from work with textured coatings will not exceed the proposed control limit.
But the move has outraged safety campaigners and specialist contractors. Terry Jago, chief executive of the Asbestos Removal Contractors' Association, said: 'We vigorously oppose the proposal to delicense textured coatings on safety grounds which we are surprised the HSC does not seem to appreciate.
'It would increase unnecessarily the risk of exposure to workers and families. We also believe the move would be contrary to requirements of the EU directive that triggered the revision of the regime in the first place.
'We hope the HSC will reach the same conclusion as us, as well as more than 100 of the Government's own MPs, the unions and many in the construction industry, that delicensing textured coatings is a backwards step in the regulation of asbestos.' Construction union Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'Deregulating an activity that has previously been licensed will send out the wrong message about the dangers of asbestos to workers and the occupants of buildings, who will be at risk.'