What Are The Rules On Asbestos?
If you are responsible for the maintenance or repair of a building you need to know the rules on asbestos. In this article, we explain what responsibilities you have under the Control of Asbestos Regulations to manage any asbestos present.
Back in the 1950s, asbestos was a new wonder material. It had excellent insulation and fireproofing properties and so was used liberally in buildings built during the period from 1950 to the late 1980s.
Fast forward thirty years and we now know that asbestos is not a nice substance to deal with. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, on average 20 tradesmen, a week die from asbestos-related diseases. The problem is that the effects of exposure to asbestos do not present themselves until many years later, so most people are unaware that they have been affected.
Due to the widespread use, many buildings in the UK still contain large amounts of asbestos, in fact, any building constructed before 2000 could contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). The common places to find ACMs are in textured coatings, floor tiles, sprayed coatings in ceilings and walls, insulating board, lagging and even in-ceiling or floor cavities. If you are responsible for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises, either as the owner or the leaseholder, then you have a duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to manage any asbestos present.
Your Duties And Responsibilities
If you are the duty holder you must first ascertain whether your premises contains ACMs or not. The law says that you must take reasonable steps to do this, which may involve employing a specialist asbestos contractor to carry out a survey in the building in order to identify any ACMs.
You must also determine how much, where it is and also find out what condition it is in. This information must then be held on record so it can be used as a reference should any construction or repair works need to be carried out in the building in the future. Bear in mind that in order to properly identify asbestos, samples must be taken away for testing. You cannot identify asbestos from visual inspection alone.
Once you know whether or not you have ACMs on your premises you must then assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified. From this risk assessment, you should prepare a plan detailing how you will manage the ACMs. If the asbestos is in good condition and will not be disturbed, then the risk to health will be low.
However if there is a danger it may be disturbed, even from mundane activity such as drilling into it to put up shelves, or if it is in poor condition, then your plan must set out in detail how the risks will be managed. It is important that you provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.
Creating Your Plan
When preparing the plan, do not be afraid to come to the conclusion that asbestos can be left alone. Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed. If it is safely managed and contained, it doesn’t present a health hazard. In fact, the HSE advises that you should not remove asbestos unnecessarily as removing it can be more dangerous than leaving it in place and managing it. You should also be aware that not all asbestos materials present the same risk. The measures that need to be taken for controlling the risks from materials such as pipe insulation are different from those needed in relation to asbestos cement.
Remember that the duty to manage is all about putting in place the practical steps necessary to protect maintenance workers and others from the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. It is not about removing all asbestos. If however, you do need to remove asbestos, make sure you get a properly licensed contractor to do the work if you are dealing with high-risk materials. Lower-risk materials, such as asbestos cement, can be removed by non-licensed but competent contractors.