Learn about how bringing your asbestos condition checks in-house could improve management and save you money.
Although asbestos was banned as a building material from 2000 in the UK, and from 2004 in Ireland, it is present in many buildings built before that time. Exposure to asbestos can cause serious illnesses leading to premature death, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
It can take from 15 to 60 years from exposure for symptoms to develop. Experts had therefore predicted that deaths from asbestos exposure would have started to fall by now. However, the figures have plateaued, remaining stubbornly at around 5000 deaths per year in the UK. Organisations continue to be fined for potentially exposing staff, customers, visitors and even children to asbestos. In 2019 a hospital trust was fined for failing to manage its asbestos records and management plan, and for failing to communicate effectively with its employees.
To avoid harm it is essential therefore that anyone responsible for a building used for work (including schools and hospitals) as well as for the common areas of shared accommodation follows their obligations under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012 (CAR) (or equivalent legislation), following guidance in the Approved code of practice and guidance for CAR, L143(ACoP).
CAR requires dutyholders to ensure that buildings are checked for asbestos, and that where asbestos is identified, or cannot be ruled out, the risk of exposure to asbestos is managed. A management plan must be produced to describe who is responsible for the measures needed to prevent exposure.
Initial surveys of asbestos must be carried out by organisations which have been approved as competent to do this work. Each EU country has an accreditation body which checks that asbestos surveyors are competent and use licensed laboratories for testing. You can check asbestos surveyors on the lists on the UKAS website in the UK, or on the Irish National Accreditation Board site in Ireland.
Once you have a survey, someone competent within your organisation should study the findings and decide whether some asbestos needs to be removed or repaired. The survey should be updated once any work has been carried out. The ACoP states that the management plan, including records of asbestos, should be reviewed at least every 12 months, and more often if anything changes. The following paragraph explains that
“any identified or suspected ACM must be inspected and its condition assessed periodically, to check that it has not deteriorated or been damaged.”
One of the myths that has developed amongst some asbestos dutyholders is that this means they have to pay an accredited asbestos surveyor to inspect the condition of identified or suspect ACM (asbestos containing materials) every 12 months. However, it is neither necessary to employ a surveyor to do your checks, nor sufficient to do them only once a year.
The ACoP makes it clear that “the frequency of inspection will depend on the location of the ACMs and other factors which could affect their condition.” ACMs in frequently used areas should be inspected far more often than once a year, and asbestos in good condition, in unused cupboards or basements can be safely left alone. If circumstances change, a further survey might be needed, for example in advance of a project to refurbish a previously unused area.
It takes an expert, and a laboratory test, to establish if some material is or might be asbestos. Once it has been identified, you and your own staff are best placed to check its condition. If damage occurs a few days after an annual check, it will be too late if you wait until the annual inspection – people might have been exposed. If you know there is asbestos under floor tiles, any deterioration in the tiles should be reported immediately.
If someone sees damage to an old fire door which has been identified as one that does, or might, contain asbestos, this should be raised as an urgent concern. If there is any risk of exposure your management plan should explain how to seal off an area and who to contact.
If you are responsible for overseeing the management of asbestos, you can improve the effectiveness of your management plan, save money and increase worker engagement by involving them in asbestos condition inspection.
If you have asbestos in your work location, workers should be receiving regular asbestos awareness training, so at their next session you could show them how to do a condition check of asbestos in their area. Give them an audit checklist to follow once a week, or once a month, with a list of locations for them to inspect. Inspection shouldn’t involve lifting carpets or otherwise exposing asbestos – just looking at the condition as it is.
Gather the information from the audits, and follow-up with anyone who reports any concerns. This will have the added advantage that their awareness of the location of asbestos will be improved, and they will be more likely to report any incidental damage they notice at other times.
Don’t lose touch with your accredited asbestos surveyor altogether – if there are any concerns you might need their help to get it sorted!