Commercial concerns when it comes to asbestos in buildings

Does your commercial building have an asbestos management survey? Craig Evans, general manager at the UK Asbestos Training Association, explores

The responsibilities for those required to manage asbestos in any non-domestic property are set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR), 2012. If you are a building owner or are responsible for the maintenance and repair, you have what is called the ‘Duty to Manage’ the asbestos in that building. This covers all non-domestic commercial properties, including factories, warehouses, offices and shops and of course public buildings such as hospitals, schools and leisure centres.

The news has been full of reports of Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) in commercial buildings recently and the problem is extensive. From hospitals and schools, all the way through to the Palace of Westminster itself (where asbestos was widely used for insulation), many buildings contain the substance in some form. Asbestos was only banned in late 1999, so any property constructed before this date almost certainly houses ACM. Estimates suggest that 1.5 million buildings in the UK could contain asbestos and it is vital that, where it is present, it is correctly managed and a management survey completed.

The Duty to Manage Asbestos is enshrined in regulation 4 of CAR 2012, approved Code of Practice published by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). It is not possible to do more than cover the basics here, but the duty holder must find out if asbestos is present; make a record of the type, location and condition of the asbestos and assess the risk of exposure. Once this is done, a plan must be prepared on how to manage the risks. Once put into action, the plan must be monitored and kept up to date and provided to anyone who might encounter or work on the asbestos.

In general, the duty holder can conduct the management survey in cases where this is likely to be simple and straightforward, but if in any doubt, a surveyor is the best option. UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) members offer Duty to Manage courses for anyone with these responsibilities and such a course is a must if considering conducting the management survey yourself.

Awareness training
This is where a working knowledge of asbestos provided by training is vital. Breathing in asbestos fibres can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Unfortunately, asbestos related diseases take the lives of over 5,000 in the UK each year. The majority of those diagnosed with mesothelioma have a life expectancy of just nine to twelve months and knowing the difference between standard asbestos and the more dangerous forms like crocidolite can be a lifesaver.

There are six basic categories of asbestos and with friable types more dangerous than others, knowing the difference matters. Friable is the term for how likely ACM is to release asbestos fibres when worked on. Where crocidolite, more commonly known as ‘blue asbestos’, is found, leaving it in place is rarely an option, as the more lethal forms involve licensed work. If it cannot be categorically said there is no asbestos, a sample should be taken and analysed by a UKAS accredited laboratory.

Asbestos awareness training can aid in the identification of ACM in buildings, which can be found on anything from thermal insulation on pipes, boilers, ducts and tanks, to joint compounds, cement, pipe block, valves, gaskets, pipe coatings. Insulating board (AIB) lagging, insulation and sprayed coatings need particular attention because they usually contain the more dangerous forms of friable asbestos.

Lagging was widely used for the thermal insulation of pipes and boilers throughout the 1960s and 1970s and disturbance of such lagging can release fibres easily into the air. Unwittingly drilling into such materials or otherwise causing fibres to be released in the form of dust, puts contractors at risk of inhaling any asbestos fibres released, which is why a survey is so essential and why asbestos retains its status as the silent killer, because the danger it poses continues to be underestimated. Asbestos is the biggest killer in the UK workplace, with related lung cancers and mesothelioma making up 40 per cent or two fifths of estimated current annual deaths. This is why the need for the management survey is taken so seriously and the penalties for failing the Duty to Manage are so severe.

The management survey must ensure no one is harmed by asbestos in the building and as such must be a comprehensive risk register of what ACM is present in the building and where. This is vital when considering ACM that could be disturbed by normal day to day activities, essential building maintenance or installation of new equipment. As such, the survey cannot be regarded as a mere box ticking exercise and must be a reliable, comprehensive working document.

Once the management survey is complete, the duty holder should have a clear picture of the asbestos situation within the building and be better placed to make decisions about safe containment and management of any ACM present – if things can be left or in the case of high risk ACM, if this needs to be safely removed by a licensed contractor.

Asbestos management is one field where a one size fits all approach is hard to apply. Serious cases may need removal, but in others, a policy of watchful waiting may be fine, if there is confidence the asbestos can remain safely undisturbed. UKATA agrees with the HSE view that, providing ACM is sealed and well maintained, staff and visitors should not be at risk during normal activities. While the risk posed by asbestos is very real, it needs to be kept in perspective. So long as proper regular reviews are undertaken and the Management Survey and resulting plan are seen as working, active documents and staff are aware of their role, asbestos can be managed safely.

Protection from exposure
In summary, if you are the duty holder, or are about to become one, you must make sure you obtain the existing Asbestos Management Report for the building or be ready to undertake the necessary management survey yourself or have it completed by a competent surveyor on your behalf. Either way, it is your responsibility to protect everyone from exposure to asbestos in your property.

This means: finding out if ACM is present, how much and its condition/sate of repair; presuming materials may contain asbestos unless you have clear evidence they do not; keeping and maintaining up to date records of the ACM; completing a risk assessment of the likelihood of people coming into contact with ACM; having a clear plan of how you will manage the risks – and putting the plan into action; and providing anyone who may need to work in the building with the details they will need to stay safe.

If this sounds daunting, the HSE website is a good place to start and contains the information duty holders will need and where to source further advice. For Duty to Manage and other asbestos training, the UKATA website contains the information you will need to find a UKATA approved trainer in your area. The right training can be the difference between compliance with the regulations and falling foul of the penalties for not doing so. The regulations are enforced by the HSE and for duty holders who fail to adequately manage the asbestos in premises, the penalties are severe. The basic fine is £20,000 and 12 months imprisonment. If the breach is considered serious enough, the fine is unlimited and includes up to two years imprisonment.

Asbestos awareness and Duty to Manage training does not prepare people to carry out work with ACM. Awareness training is only intended to help employees avoid carrying out work that will disturb asbestos or ACM. If work is planned that will disturb ACM, further information, instruction and training appropriate to the work being done will be required.

Further Information: 

www.ukata.org.uk

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