Each week, around 20 tradespeople lose their lives because of past asbestos exposure. Annually, the death toll of those with mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer reaches 5,000. Lethal asbestos fibres can be present in any building constructed before the year 2000 (including schools, hospitals, offices and factories), and every employer is required to assess and manage exposure risks.
When asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are disturbed or damaged – often during construction or demolition activity – toxic fibres are released into the surrounding area and can enter workers’ lungs. Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to a range of serious and fatal diseases later in life, so it’s essential to take pre-emptive precautions.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the duty holder must ‘take reasonable steps to determine the location and condition of materials likely to contain asbestos’. This demands a proactive approach – and the assumption that materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence otherwise. By law, you are obliged to:
- Keep a current record of the location and condition of the ACMs (or presumed ACMs) on the premises
- Assess the likelihood of exposure to fibres from these materials and prepare a management plan setting out how the risks from the materials are to be managed
- Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
- Review and monitor the plan
- Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone liable to work on or disturb them
Your asbestos risk assessment should not only locate toxic fibres, but also inform a detailed management plan to contain current and future exposure hazards. An initial management survey will involve sampling suspected ACMs from typical hotspots such as:
- Fire breaks in ceiling voids and fire protection panels/partitions
- Pipe/boiler lagging
- Ceiling tiles
- Insulation of electrical equipment
- Corrugated roof/wall sheets, gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks
- Certain textured coatings
- Bitumen roofing material
- Floor tiles
Carrying out compliant refurbishment and demolition work
A refurbishment and demolition survey is required on any project that involves structural changes to buildings erected before 2000. The extensive investigation – which ideally takes place in a vacant space with free access to wall and ceiling cavities – minimises the risk of asbestos fibre release by identifying all ACMs in the area surrounding the refurbishment work. In the case of demolition, the survey is carried out throughout the entire premises. Surveyors, builders and contractors then use the results to effectively plan and prevent exposure.
Recent asbestos-related prosecutions
Despite the life-threatening risks of asbestos being widely publicised, companies continue to place workers in danger. Recent HSE prosecutions demonstrate the high cost of poor practice.
- A construction company and a property management firm were fined a combined total of £37,000 for sidestepping asbestos regulations during an office block refurbishment. When an asbestos survey identified ACMs in the building, the property managers failed to notify their contractor. In turn, the construction company proceeded without enquiring about survey findings or carrying out correct control measures, causing two employees to be exposed to asbestos fibres.
- In another dual sentencing, an industrial packaging manufacturer and its maintenance contractor were penalised when workers were allowed to disturb asbestos while dismantling disused kitchen equipment. Even though a survey had revealed asbestos in an oven’s gaskets and rope seals, workers were instructed to continue the job without a proper risk assessment, knowledge of the ACM or suitable control measures. The area was also used as a daily site access point, widening exposure risks. The companies received fines of £100,000 and £7,000.
- A building contractor was prosecuted for completing the wrong type of asbestos survey at a development of four flats above a retail unit. Following a gas explosion in one of the dwellings, the HSE found that the company had failed to plan, manage and monitor construction work to prevent asbestos exposure. The non-compliant work led to a fine of £2,000, plus £3,000 in costs.
‘Above and beyond’ asbestos services
Southalls guides you through all asbestos management requirements, from initial risk assessment to follow-up surveys and maintenance. We work with accredited partners to ensure a speedy turnaround on materials testing, so your project deadlines remain on track.
Following sampling, results and other key survey data are included in a comprehensive site and management plan with asbestos register, outlining exposure points across your premises and recommendations for ongoing prevention and compliance.