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Asbestos – past and present killer

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With all asbestos-related diseases typically taking years to develop, employers must ensure that today any asbestos work is done following legislation and best practice.


In 2012, the regulations around the control of asbestos changed due to the European Commission stating that the UK hadn’t fully encompassed the EU Directive regarding the exposure to asbestos in commercial, industrial and social environments.

The main changes to regulations involved non-licensed ACM’s (Asbestos Containing Materials) and the measures that must be in place to safely test, remove, or encapsulate this string of asbestos, while the regulation surrounding licenced materials remained the same, with very few changes.

Notifiable non-licenced works must now have certain messages in place such as: informing enforcing authorities that works are happening, identifying and documenting all areas of the building that are being worked in, maintaining registers of the personnel who are working in these areas and keeping management plans up to date.

Electricians, builders, plumbers, carpenters and other trademen may come into contact with asbestos regularly. Photograph: iStock/Henfaes

It is imperative that the type of work to also be considered is to identify whether works should be brought to the attention of the authorities. Different types of work include: maintenance, removal, encapsulation and air monitoring. As asbestos comes in many different forms, this can also be a deciding factor on whether it will notifiable work or not.

Where is likely to be apparent?

  • Sprayed asbestos
  • Generally used as fire breaks in ceiling voids and ducts
  • Moulded or preformed lagging
  • Generally used in thermal insulation of pipes and boilers
  • Fire breaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steelwork
  • Insulating boards used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts
  • Some ceiling tiles
  • Millboard, paper and paper products used for insulation of electrical equipment
  • Wood fibreboards (asbestos paper as fireproof facing)
  • Certain textured coatings
  • Bitumen roofing material
  • Vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles
  • Asbestos cement products.
  • Generally used as full or semi-compressed into flat or corrugated sheets (roofing and cladding) and gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks

Main regulatory bodies that require notification

There are three main regulatory bodies that will require notification when any asbestos work is taking place. When working on any construction site, industrial unit, education building, hospital or transport facility, you should notify the Health and Safety Executive. When working on individual shops, offices, churches or hotels you should notify the local government/authority that the site is based within. When work is undertaken on railways, railway lines or signal boxes, the Office of Rail and Road should be notified.

Asbestos is likely to be present in flat or corrugated sheets used for roofing and cladding

Something to give serious consideration to, from my experience working with and removing asbestos, is where different responsibilities lie. What is the licenced contractor who is completing the works responsible for? What is the main contractor controlling the site’s responsibility? What is the client/building owner responsible for? It is imperative to know who is responsible for what, to ensure nothing is missed and regulations around asbestos are upheld.

Considerations when working with asbestos

Prior to work commencing and during the work taking place, it is important to consider the following:

  • Is the contractor licenced or non-licenced to work with asbestos?
  • Are they suitably trained?
  • Has an updated management survey been completed, highlighting all areas containing ACM’s?
  • Has suitable air testing and monitoring been executed on site prior to, during and after the
    removal process?
  • Have all potential risks been highlighted within an agreed Risk assessment and method statement?
  • Have all risks associated with the job, for example working at height been considered?
  • Have all personnel been provided with appropriate personal protection equipment to complete the job in its entirety?
  • Has suitable and sufficient on-site security been implemented to prevent unauthorised access to the work area?
  • Are all personnel trained to use equipment?
  • Has the work area been visually inspected prior to and following the removal?
  • Has the asbestos waste produced been sealed, consigned and removed from site in full compliance to applicable legislation, approved codes of practice and industry standard best practice?

From a main contractor’s point of view, if all of the above criteria have been met, then, dependent on specific situations, work should be able to commence.

Depending on the size of the project and what is entailed, there will more than likely be an impromptu visit from HSE to inspect and analyse the procedures that are in place. As a regulatory body, HSE have two key areas that you should always consider: the safe removal of asbestos and working at height safely.

HSE Asbestos Essentials manual here

Henry Greensmith is development director of roofing at HSFM

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