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Frequently asked questions about asbestos

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the common name for a variety of naturally occurring fibrous mineral silicates which occur in many parts of the world and were extensively used in building products throughout the twentieth century. There are three main types of asbestos – Blue (crocidolite), Brown (amosite) and White (chrysotile).  All forms of asbestos are classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.

What are the risks from asbestos?

Inhalation of asbestos fibres causes irreversible lung disease & is responsible for approximately 4500 deaths per year in the UK according to the Heath & Safety Executive. There is often a delay of over 15 years from initial exposure to onset of disease and the majority of those suffering from asbestos related lung disease worked in building trades such as electricians, plasterers, decorators, carpenters, plumbers, refurbishment contractors, heating & ventilation engineers and demolition workers.

When & why was asbestos used?

Asbestos has exceptional properties such as heat resistance, resistance to chemical attack, electrical insulation, acoustic insulation & it’s very strong. These properties, combined with its relative cheapness and abundance led to asbestos being used in over 3000 commercial products throughout the 20th Century and it was not until 1999 that asbestos was finally banned in the UK.

What building products might contain asbestos?

The list of asbestos building products is very long indeed; however the following are some of the most common asbestos-containing materials (ACM’s) ….

  • Thermal & acoustic insulation
  • Fire retardant sprayed coatings
  • Textiles, ropes & braids
  • Cement products such as roof sheets, rainwater goods & boiler flues
  • Ceiling tiles, wall boards & door lining panels
  • Thermo plastic floor tiles & older vinyl flooring
  • Bitumen products, adhesives & plastics
  • Textured decorative coatings
  • Friction products such as brake pads

Do we need an asbestos survey?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 places a legal duty on employers and anyone with maintenance and repair responsibilities for non-domestic premises (including common areas of rented domestic premises) built before the year 2000 to assess whether they contain asbestos and if so, whether the asbestos presents a risk. In simple terms this means that employers and landlords must:

  • Establish whether asbestos is present and where it is located (usually by commissioning an asbestos survey)
  • Assume that asbestos is present unless proved otherwise
  • Record all findings and assumptions & maintain all records
  • Implement plans to manage the risk from any asbestos & monitor its condition
  • Provide information to those in contact with asbestos

Are there different types of asbestos survey?

Yes, the HSE have produced a asbestos survey guide  (Ref HSG264), which sets out the methods of conducting an asbestos survey, the competence requirements of the surveyors and other key factors. In this guide the following asbestos survey types are defined:

  • Management survey is the standard survey. Its purpose is to locate, as far as reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspect ACM’s (asbestos-containing materials) in the building which could be damaged or disturbed during normal occupancy, including foreseeable maintenance and installation, and to assess their condition.
  • Refurbishment and demolition surveys are needed before any refurbishment or demolition work is carried out. This type of survey is used to locate and describe, as far as reasonably practicable, all ACM’s in the area where the refurbishment work will take place or in the whole building if demolition is planned. The survey will be fully intrusive and involve destructive inspection, as necessary, to gain access to all areas, including those that may be difficult to reach. A refurbishment and demolition survey may also be required in other circumstances, e.g. when more intrusive maintenance and repair work will be carried out or for plant removal or dismantling.

Does all asbestos need to be removed?

Asbestos may need to be removed if it is in poor condition or it is likely to be disturbed by planned maintenance work; however the HSE’s advice is to leave it be if it’s in good condition & undisturbed. If you decide to leave asbestos in place, by law you will need to implement a written Asbestos Management Plan & maintain up-to-date asbestos records. If you decide to remove or repair the asbestos you should bear in mind that all work with asbestos is strictly regulated in the UK & in most circumstances you will need to employ specialist asbestos contractors.

Do we need to provide asbestos awareness training?

Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires that Asbestos Awareness Training is provided to all employees whose work activities could foreseeably expose them to asbestos. This is particularly critical for refurbishment workers, maintenance and allied trades and those in the demolition industry. In providing this training to your employees you are ensuring compliance with your statutory obligations; however it is also a legal requirement that refresher training is provided on a regular basis (typically annually).

What are the penalties if we fail to comply with asbestos Regulations?

Working with asbestos is a hazardous activity and consequently the Health & Safety Executive have implemented strict regulations which mean that in most cases the work may only be carried out by specialist contractors. Breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations is a criminal offence which can lead to heavy fines and / or imprisonment.

What should I do if I think I have asbestos in my house?

The risks from asbestos are just as severe in the home as they are in the workplace but The Control of Asbestos Regulations are directed at Employers & not home owners; however if you think that there may be asbestos in your house, it’s probably best to get it checked out by a specialist company & then take their advice.

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