What is asbestos and why is it dangerous?
Asbestos is the common name given to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. These minerals are found naturally in many places in the world, but not in the UK. All of the asbestos used in the UK has been imported from other countries.
Asbestos fibres are extremely resistant to heat and this is why the majority of the material was used. The fibres are also resistant to chemical attack and are not easily subject to weathering.
It is this resistance that makes asbestos so hazardous. When the fibres are inhaled they accumulate in the respiratory system and they cannot be broken down by the body’s natural defences. this can result in the development of different types of potentially fatal asbestos illnesses.
Currently in the UK, approximately 5,000 people die each year from past exposure to asbestos and this number is continuing to rise.
Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, a disease called Asbestosis which is generally linked to those that have worked in asbestos industries, along with a rare disease called Mesothelioma. Of our 5,000 deaths, almost half of these are from mesothelioma. it is believed that low levels of asbestos exposure, such as those that can be found in buildings, could cause the diseases to develop.
In general terms, the more asbestos you are exposed to the greater risk of developing an asbestos related disease. Asbestos fibres are microscopic, and disturbing asbestos can produce very small fibres that are capable of penetrating deep into the body’s lung tissue.
Asbestos in the UK in building materials can be traced back to the late 1800’s. but despite evidence concerning the risk of exposure, asbestos was not banned in the UK until late 1999.
Asbestos fibres are commonly mixed with other products to form building material, and these are commonly known as asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Why should I have an asbestos survey, and what is one?
By knowing where the asbestos is within your property you are going to be better able to manage the risk of potential exposure. This information is important for yourself and any staff you may employ, as well as being important for any contractor that may visit your premises and who may accidentally disturb asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
In the UK the Health & Safety Executive has in place specific legal requirements that place an obligation on employers, and those who manage properties, to have in place procedures for managing asbestos, and the asbestos survey helps with this. Failure to comply with these requirements is a serious offence, and can result in unlimited fines and potential custodial sentences of up to six months in prison.
So, by having a survey you are not only protecting your staff and visitors, but also yourself from potential prosecution.
Not all buildings need an asbestos survey. The use of asbestos in the UK was made illegal in late 1999. As a result of this it is considered safe to assume that buildings build after this date will not contain asbestos. If you’re building was constructed after 1999. you should record this information and collate any evidence you have to this effect, in case you are asked to produce it.
An asbestos survey is a way to help you manage asbestos in your premises by identifying:
- The location of any ACMs in the building
- The type of asbestos they contain
- The condition these materials are in
The survey will usually involve sampling and analysis to determine the presence of asbestos.
Different types of survey
Like building surveys, different types of asbestos can be undertaken. This largely depends on the reasons for you needing the survey.
Asbestos Management Surveys:
These are suitable for the day-to-day management of the properties:
- Management: this is to give you enough information to operate the building safely day-to-day, including routine maintenance work.
- provide you with information relating to the location and condition of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
- Will provide you with information to include in your asbestos management plan.
Refurbishment & Demolition Surveys:
Although treated as one type of survey by the Health & Safety Executive, we will explain each element separately.
A refurbishment survey is a survey that is focused on the planned refurbishment. These surveys are invasive and will cause damage to the building fabric if performed correctly. it is important that you provide your surveyor with sufficient information to ensure that the survey is robust enough to meet your requirements, while at the same time minimising unnecessary damage.
A demolition survey, as the name implies, is a detailed very invasive survey of a property conducted prior to demolition. This type of survey can only be perfromed in un-occupied buildings.
In some instances you may require a mixture of survey types within a building. It should be noted that during a buildings life, it is likely to need more than one survey.
What information do I need to provide Thames Laboratories for a survey to be carried out?
In order to assist you, please email your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org along with the full site address and an outline of what you are looking for with details of any planned works.
Who is responsible for managing asbestos?
The responsibility for managing asbestos in properties lays with a person called the ‘Duty Holder’. In simple terms the ‘Duty Holder’ is the person who is in control of the property. If your business owns the premises, or you have a full repairing lease, then this is likely to be you.
Remember, failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence, and can result in unlimited fines or potential prison sentences. The duty applies to non-domestic premises and the common areas of residential blocks.
As the ‘Duty Holder’ you will be required to demonstrate compliance with Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012.
What is an asbestos management plan?
This is a legal requirement of Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012.
The purpose of an asbestos management plan is to establish the condition of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), and ensure ACMs are maintained in good condition, and where necessary, removed safely.
The asbestos survey is an important element of the asbestos management plan, as it helps you to establish where the asbestos is and the condition the material is in.
An asbestos management plan will typically contain the following:
- Annotated site plans
- Asbestos register
- Asbestos action plan
- Communication plan
The asbestos management plan should be updated with every asbestos re-inspection that is undertaken in accordance with the asbestos action plan.
What precautions should I take?
If you suspect that a material may contain asbestos, you should not make any alterations to the material, including any repairs or removal. You can treat the material as if it is an asbestos-containing material (ACM), or you can get the material sampled to confirm it has an asbestos content.
If you encounter damaged materials that you suspect are asbestos, you should make the area safe by preventing access by others. if you do not have appropriate training you should then seek professional advice to help you manage the situation. Only people trained and insured to work with asbestos should be permitted to work on ACMs.
Should you need help we are only a phone call away!
How do I find someone to undertake an asbestos survey?
The Health & Safety Executive strongly recommends the use of a UKAS accredited asbestos surveying company (see UKAS FAQ). You can use a non-accredited company, but as the ‘Duty Holder’ or the client, the responsibility is upon you to ensure that the organisation you employ meets the appropriate standards set out by the Health & Safety Executive.
If things go wrong, it will be up to you to demonstrate why you made the choice that you did.
Lots of people advertise offering asbestos surveys, including asbestos removal contractors. Many organisations profess to being registered with organistions such as the BOHS and to using qualified surveyors. but you should be aware that the process of qualification only takes 3 days. Within a UKAS accredited organisation, the training and qualification of staff generally takes a year.
What is UKAS?
UKAS is a Government authorised body for the approval of organisations offering asbestos surveys and testing services.
By law, asbestos samples can only be analysed by UKAS accredited testing laboratories. We hold this accreditation and have our own testing facilities. We are proud to have held UKAS accreditation for over 25 years.
This is what the UKAS testing logo looks like:
UKAS visit our premises each year and generally spend 5-7 days with us reviewing our processes, procedures and visiting our sites. This is far greater and more in depth than a licensed contractor, where the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) may visit only once every 3 years, and even then generally only for half a day.
UKAS Assesses factors relevant to a laboratory’s ability to produce precise, accurate tests and data. this includes the technical competence of staff, the validity and appropriateness of test methods, the suitability and maintenance of test equipment, the testing environment, sampling, handling and transportation of test items and the quality assurance of test data.
These requirements are why HSE has made it a legal requirement for samples to be tested in UKAS laboratories and strongly recommend the use of UKAS accredited inspection bodies. We hold UKAS inspection body accreditation, so you can always rely on the quality of the work we produce.
This is what the UKAS inspection logo looks like:
Why should I look for it?
The financial, reputational and health costs of getting asbestos management wrong are substantial.
In July 2011, Marks & Spencer were fined £1,000,000 for failing to manage asbestos. each year asbestos deaths cost the NHS and insurers over £850,000,000 so it is important that you make the right decisions.
The confidence of a laboratory you appoint may be crucial to maintain your reputation as a responsible organistion. Selecting an accredited oranisation is an essential tool for decision-making and risk management.
Is asbestos training a legal responsibility?
Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012 (CAR 2012) requires employers to ensure that adequate information, instruction and training is given to all employees that are liable to be exposed to asbestos, and employees who supervise those liable to be exposed to asbestos.
Paragraph 233 of the Health & Safety Executive’s approved code of practice lists these staff as:
- Demolition workers
- Construction workers
- Maintenance staff
- Gas fitters
- Painters and decorators
- Shop fitters
- Heating and ventilation engineers
- Telecommunications engineers
- Computer and data installers
- Alarm installers
- Architects, building surveyors and other building professionals
Anyone undertaking work with asbestos will need to have additional task based training based upon the works they are performing. This training must be refreshed on an annual basis. In addition to training those undertaking any work, apart from that which is considered to be low risk, will also need to undergo medical surveillance.