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A Guide to Asbestos

In the UK over 3,000 people die each year as a result of past exposure to asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACMs). It is the free fibres floating in the air which may be inhaled into the lungs that cause the damage and it is, therefore, very important to avoid any task that could disturb the asbestos and produce a release of fibres.

The Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive carried out a detailed review of asbestos legislation which resulted in a brand new piece of legislation – the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR) which took effect on 13th November 2006.

As a general rule, if you own domestic residential property, which consists of private dwellings and which do not contain common or communal areas, then your only duty is to ensure that you engage competent contractors to carry out repairs and maintenance. The onus for compliance with the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 is on the builder or contractor. However, if the property contains communal or common areas then you are a Duty Holder under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006 and the following guidance should be observed.

Duty to Manage (reg. 4)
The existing duty placed on those who own or control property – to identify ACMs and manage the associated risks – has not been amended. Duty Holders remain responsible for identifying the presence of ACMs and preparing a plan to manage any risk that such materials present.

The Regulations also introduced a new duty to manage the risks arising from the presence of asbestos or asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in non-domestic premises. The duty is placed upon those who have control over premises or control the access to and egress from the premises. The duty is also placed upon any person who has the responsibility for maintaining or repairing the premises. This responsibility could arise through a contract or a tenancy agreement e.g. a full repairing lease.

The New Duties
The revised Regulations (effective 2006) require Duty Holders to:

  • Investigate whether asbestos or ACMs are present
  • Check their condition
  • Carry out a risk assessment
  • Prepare a written plan specifying the measures to be taken to manage the risk
  • Inform anyone who might disturb the ACM or who might work on the material of its presence.

It should be noted that the duties do not specifically require that a survey be carried out. However, a survey may be necessary to identify some ACMs or to confirm the full extent of their presence. Nor do the Regulations require any or all ACMs to be removed. Whilst ACMs in extremely poor condition might need removal or replacement, there may be alternative methods of controlling the risk e.g. encapsulation.

Identifying Asbestos
Even though types of asbestos are known by their colour (e.g. blue, brown and white), they cannot be identified by colour alone. The first step is to identify the materials that may contain asbestos.

In all cases the ACM may be painted, encapsulated or covered to protect it. Identifying asbestos is not easy and there is a possibility that the material may be disturbed in maintenance or refurbishment work.

The only way to positively identify a material as asbestos is by having it analysed by a reputable laboratory. Samples should only be taken by suitably trained people and analysed by a laboratory that is a member of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

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Condition of the ACM
The chance of asbestos fibres being released into the air will be increased if the ACM:

  • is located where it could be knocked or bumped
  • is located where it may be worked upon (e.g. where someone may drill holes in it for pipes or cables)
  • surface is breaking up or is damaged or cracked
  • has become detached from the structure or item it is protecting (e.g. a steel girder or pipe)

If there are signs of dust or debris from the material in the immediate area then the risk should be regarded as needing immediate attention and it will need to be sealed, enclosed or removed.

If the ACM is in a poor condition, then it will need to be sealed, enclosed or removed urgently.

Removal or Repair
ACMs that are prone to damage or difficult to repair will need to be removed.

ACMs that are in good condition or can be sealed or protected, should be clearly marked with the asbestos warning sign. Keep a note of their location and mark it on building plans.

Where ACMs are left in place they should be periodically inspected to check on their condition. It may be helpful to record any materials that have been tested and found not to contain asbestos, in case they are called into question in the future.

Some types of work with ACMs (for example the removal or sealing of asbestos lagging and insulation), can only be carried out by licensed contractors and/or be notified to the Health and Safety Executive or Environmental Health Authority. Licensed contractors will probably be a member of the Asbestos Removal Contractors’ Association (ARCA). Details of licensed contractors can be obtained from the Health and Safety Executive.

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Notifying Workers and Contractors
It is important that any workers and contractors, who are involved with building maintenance, are informed of the location of ACMs. They should be made aware of the risk to health and be told that they must not disturb ACMs.

In addition to informing them of the location of the known ACMs, they should be aware of the sorts of material that contain asbestos and the need to inform a responsible person if they inadvertently discover or disturb any materials that may contain asbestos.

Do not attempt any work with ACMs unless you have obtained specialist advice first and are taking proper precautions.

Disposal of Asbestos
Asbestos waste (that is, any material containing more than 0.1% asbestos) is covered by the environmental legislation Special Waste Regulations 1996. It should be double wrapped in heavy-duty polythene bags and clearly labelled before it is transported to a disposal site. It can only be disposed of at a site that is licensed to take hazardous waste.

Key Action Steps

  • Identify materials that may contain asbestos
  • Arrange for samples to be taken to identify if (and what type of) asbestos is present using a UKAS accredited laboratory
  • Decide whether the ACM should be removed or sealed, taking into consideration its location and condition
  • Arrange for the ACM to be removed or sealed using a licensed contractor
  • Mark any ACMs remaining on site with the asbestos label and keep a register
  • Inform employees and contractors of its location and ensure they do not disturb it
  • Regularly check the condition of the ACM by inspecting it

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