WHAT IS ASBESTOS?

Asbestos refers to a set of naturally-occurring fibrous minerals that were particularly prevalent in many kinds of construction between the 1950s and 1980s.

These minerals are heat and chemical resistant, non-flammable and strong, making them popular for use in insulation, fireproofing and reinforcing other components such as concrete and plastics.

In the 1970s, loose asbestos fibres were linked to several severe and fatal lung diseases resulting in them being phased out of use through the 1980s in most applications.

WHY IS IT DANGEROUS?

Asbestos fibres can break down to microscopic airborne particles, that become very easy to inhale, even when wearing personal protective equipment. These particles stick to the lining of the lungs and can cause respiratory problems, even years after exposure.

It’s important to note that asbestos only poses a significant risk when it becomes damaged and fibres become loose.

Asbestos materials that are properly maintained are not a danger, and only pose a significant risk when they are damaged or disturbed and fibres are released into the air and subsequently inhaled.

It is recommended that, if it is undamaged and unlikely to be disturbed, material containing asbestos should be left in place, if necessary sealing it with paint or plastic film.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY COMMERCIAL PROPERTY HAS ASBESTOS AND WHAT TO DO?

Any industrial, commercial or domestic premises built before 2000 may contain asbestos. Some asbestos is noticeable, or easily identified. Commonly found in:

Fire blankets, AIB panels, pipe lagging, insulation and Artex

However, this list is not exhaustive and it can be hard to tell what is an asbestos material. Exercise caution.

Floor tiles, pipe lagging, textured paints (Artex), internal partitions, central heating systems, roofs, gutters, rainwater downpipes, cement cladding, fire protection to structural steelwork, fuse boxes, bitumen products and many, many more.

The important thing is to stop working, and carry out a risk assessment. You must undertake a risk assessment before conducting any work on asbestos materials, to determine if the work should be conducted by a licences asbestos contractor. You need information, instruction and training to deal with asbestos.

WHAT IS AN ASBESTOS SURVEY?

An asbestos survey provides accurate information about the location, type and amount of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in the premises. The survey will involve sampling and analysis to determine the presence and significance of ACMs in your premises.

The report will tell you where any ACMs are in the building, the kind of asbestos they contain and the condition of the materials, to determine the level of risk.

ARE THEY ALL THE SAME?

The first and most common is the asbestos management survey. This is carried out to identify asbestos, carry out a material risk assessment for each positive occurrence, complete a priority assessment if required and produce an asbestos register in an easy to read format thus helping the duty holder to fulfil their duties.

The second type is the pre-demolition survey which is done in order to identify any asbestos containing materials so that they may be removed prior to the building being demolished.

There is a variation of the pre-demolition survey and this is called a refurbishment survey.  As the name suggests this is done to a building or specific area of a building prior to any works being undertaken. This is so any effected asbestos can be removed.

The type of Asbestos Survey most appropriate will be dependent on client/property specific requirements and will be established during the survey planning phase.

Note – The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires that the condition of asbestos-based products needs to be re-inspected regularly and records updated accordingly. The frequency of the asbestos inspection regime must not exceed 12 months.

WHAT IS THE ASBESTOS RISK REGISTER?

Important log of how you are managing the asbestos (or presumed asbestos) on your premises.

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.

WHAT IS THE CONTROL LIMIT?

The control limit refers to the concentration of asbestos fibres in any localised atmosphere, measured and averaged over a continuous period of four hours, in accordance with the 1997 World Health Organisation’s recommended method. At the moment, the control limit is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). The control limit is not a ‘safe’ level and work activities involving asbestos should be designed to be as far below the control limit as possible. HSE has progressively tightened the control limit since 1987.

Work involving some lower risk asbestos-containing materials (eg asbestos cement products and textured decorative coatings, among others) can be carried out if a risk assessment demonstrates that the control limit will not be exceeded and that any exposure to asbestos is expected to be ‘sporadic and of low intensity’. The control limit for this type of non-licensed work is 0.6 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.6 f/cm3), measured over a ten-minute period. Any work which is likely to result in exposures at or above this level cannot be considered to be sporadic and of low intensity and should therefore only be carried out by a licensed contractor.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A SURVEY CARRIED OUT?

You can just assume the worst and take steps to apply full precautions for potentially ACMs. It’s less troublesome and more proportional to have an asbestos survey carried out so you don’t go overboard. The person responsible for the commercial premises much arrange a survey if ACMs are suspected.

If you are the duty holder for a commercial property and you do not have an asbestos survey, you are liable to prosecution.

Failure to comply with the new asbestos regulations may also mean that a prohibition notice is placed on your buildings – effectively closing you down until your workplace is confirmed safe.

HOW MUCH WILL A SURVEY COST

The cost of an asbestos survey will depend on the size and age of your building; however, we always aim to deliver maximum value by combining an asbestos survey with another service where possible. This saves you money, time and offers better efficiency in large projects where several reports can be produced and implemented in a smaller time frame.

WHATS AN ASBESTOS MANAGEMENT PLAN?

The asbestos management plan is a formal record of the state of all known asbestos on a site, with both control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk from each occurrence, and perhaps a longer-term plan to remove the risk altogether, by having the asbestos removed in a properly-controlled manner.

Being able to demonstrate that you know and can quantify your risks with regard to asbestos could reduce current and future costs and liabilities.

Ultimately, by removing the asbestos from a premise, you could increase its value (by removing the liability associated with its presence).

CAN I GET RID OF ASBESTOS IN MY BUILDING?

Removal of high-risk ACMs should only be done by a licensed contractor. These include asbestos insulation boards, panels and lagging, which are more likely to release fibres into the air than asbestos cement or vinyl floor tiles for example.

There are strict guidelines for handling asbestos waste. It must be clearly labelled, and contained in double-wrapped packaging to ensure no fibres are released in transit. Typically, this involves a red inner bag that id marked with asbestos warning labels, and a transparent outer bag with asbestos warning labels. Asbestos materials should not be broken down into smaller pieces for disposal. They should be carefully transported to a licensed disposal site (contact your local authority).

It is recommended that, if it is undamaged and unlikely to be disturbed, material containing asbestos should be left in place, if necessary sealing it with paint or plastic film.

 WHAT IS THE ASBESTOS REGISTER?

The Asbestos Register is a document that lists all identified (or presumed) asbestos in a workplace. The Asbestos Register must record any asbestos or asbestos containing materials (ACM) that has been identified or is likely to be present at the workplace from time to time.

JUST HOW DANGEROUS IS ASBESTOS?

Asbestos is a mineral substance that can split into many tiny fibres. When present in the air, these fibres can be inhaled into the lungs where they may lodge. If sufficient fibres are inhaled they can lead to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and another type of cancer called mesothelioma. Crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos) pose a greater risk than chrysotile (white asbestos), which is the most common type of asbestos found in buildings. The exposures encountered by members of the general public outdoors or in their homes are very low and unlikely to present any risk. Nevertheless, it is wise to take precautions if you are handling any substance you suspect may contain asbestos

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