Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It is a naturally occurring fibrous material that had been a more popular building material since the 1950s.
Any building constructed or refurbished between 1890 and 1999 could contain asbestos in one or more of its many forms and uses. From the 1930’s asbestos was hailed as the ‘wonder building material’ and in terms of its use, reached its height in the UK, in the mid 1970’s.
Asbestos was used for many applications including fire protection, thermal insulation, anti-condensation and acoustic coatings, wall boarding, boxing, panelling and roofing to name but a few. In churches it has been used as pipe and boiler insulation, boxing and casings to organ blowers, permanent shuttering over pipe trenches, behind radiators, under radiator shelves, rain water goods and as sprayed coatings to the underside of roofs to name but a few.
Because asbestos is often mixed with another material’s, it’s hard to know if you’re working with it or not. But, if you work in a building built before the year 2000, it’s likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.
The presence of asbestos alone should not be a cause for concern. Asbestos only becomes a risk to human health when it is released into the air and breathed in.
Duty holders – those who are responsible for maintaining or repairing non-domestic premises – are required to actively manage any asbestos in buildings. This provides a practical way to identify, prioritise and properly plan the actions that need to be taken to manage the risks.
Where asbestos containing materials are assessed as being in good condition and not in a position where they are likely to be damaged they should be left in place and monitored.
However, where asbestos is in poor condition or is likely to be damaged during the normal use of the building, it should be sealed, enclosed or removed, as appropriate.
Those considered most at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres are tradesmen and maintenance workers who disturb the fabric of buildings during the course of their work. Precautions must be taken to ensure that tradespeople don’t put themselves or others at risk by disturbing asbestos.
Asbestos is a hidden killer that can cause four serious diseases. These are: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal). These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.
The duty to manage asbestos is a legal requirement under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (Regulation 4). It applies to the owners and occupiers of commercial premises (such as shops, offices, industrial units etc.) who have responsibility for maintenance and repair activities. In addition to these responsibilities, they also have a duty to assess the presence and condition of any asbestos-containing materials. If asbestos is present, or is presumed to be present, then it must be managed appropriately. The duty also applies to the shared parts of some domestic premises.
An asbestos survey is an effective way to help you manage asbestos in your premises by providing accurate information about the location, amount and type of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). It is recommended that you arrange a survey if you suspect there are ACMs in your premises. Alternatively, you may choose to presume there is asbestos in your premises and would then need to take all appropriate precautions for any work that takes place. However, it is good practice to have an asbestos survey carried out so you can be absolutely sure whether asbestos is present or not.
The asbestos survey can help to provide enough information so that an asbestos register, a risk assessment and a management plan can be prepared. The survey will usually involve sampling and analysis to determine the presence of asbestos so asbestos surveys should only be carried out by competent surveyors who can clearly demonstrate they have the necessary skills, experience and qualifications.
Company’s you choose to undertake asbestos surveys should be accredited by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) to ISO/IEC 17020 to undertake inspections and to ISO/IEC 17025 to undertake bulk sample identification and testing. This accreditation ensures that you will get the best possible survey in accordance with HSG 264.
An asbestos survey will identify:
- the location of any asbestos-containing materials in the building
- the type of asbestos they contain
- the condition these materials are in
Following a survey, the surveyor will produce a survey report which details the findings and provides recommendations for management of the ACM.
The asbestos risk register is a key component of the required plan on how you will manage any asbestos found, or presumed to be, in your buildings. This management plan must contain current information about the presence and condition of any asbestos in the building. The asbestos risk register will therefore need to be updated on a regular basis (at least once a year). To do this you should make:
- regular inspections to check the current condition of asbestos materials
- deletions to the register when any asbestos is removed
- additions to the register when new areas are surveyed and asbestos is located
- changes to the register (at any time asbestos-containing materials are found to have deteriorated)
The risk register can be kept as a paper or electronic record and it is very important that this is kept up to date and easily accessible. Paper copies may be easier to pass on to visiting maintenance workers, who will need them to know the location and condition of any asbestos before they start work. Electronic copies are easier to update and are probably better suited for people responsible for large numbers of properties or bigger premises.
The Government introduced the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) in direct response to the mortality rates associated with asbestos exposure, which are currently estimated at around 4000 deaths per year.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) hopes to reduce future exposure by ensuring compliance with Regulation 4 (Duty to Manager) of CAR 2012, whereby the ‘duty holder’ has the responsibility of ensuring the safe management of ACMs within their premises. The duty is not limited to an asbestos survey, but specific to safely managing asbestos by the implementation of a strong management process.
In summary, the Regulation requires that you monitor the condition of any ACM’s; therefore, regular re-inspection of all ACMs identified within the premises is required. An asbestos management plan needs to be produced to outline how it is intended, that the duty holder, minimises the risks associated with asbestos exposure on their site.
The starting point of any management plan is to find out if the building contains asbestos materials by an asbestos survey. A survey will provide an asbestos register, record its location, extent and type and assess the risk of exposure on the long term health of anyone who may come into contact with it. To ensure compliance with CAR 2012, Regulation 4, following a Survey, Tersus normally advises that annual re-inspections of the ACMs identified in the survey are carried out.
Tersus have over 28 years’ experience undertaking asbestos consultancy works including producing asbestos management plans and undertaking re-inspection surveys for a large client portfolio and can assist with all aspects of regulatory compliance.