Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Asbestos-related diseases currently kill around 4500 people a year in Great Britain (www.hse.gov.uk/statistics).
As long as asbestos is in good condition and is not disturbed or damaged there is negligible risk. However, if it is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people may breathe them in.
Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many thousands of tonnes of it were used in the past in such things as:
- lagging on plant and pipework;
- insulation products such as fireproof panels;
- asbestos cement roofing material;
- sprayed coatings on structural steel work to insulate against fire and noise.
Much of this material is still in place. However, buildings constructed after 2000 are unlikely to contain asbestos materials.
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Managing asbestos in buildings
If you are responsible for the maintenance and repair of non-domestic premises, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 require you to:
- take reasonable steps to find out if there are asbestos-containing materials present and, if so, how much material, where it is, what type it is (tile, boards, lagging etc) and what condition it is in;
- make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing materials (or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos);
- clearly identify any areas that have not been accessed/surveyed;
- prepare a plan that sets out how the risks from these materials will be managed;
- take the necessary steps to put the plan into action;
- provide information on the location and condition of any asbestos-containing materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.
Don’t disturb the asbestos. It is only dangerous when disturbed. If it is safely managed and contained, it doesn’t present a health hazard. Don’t remove asbestos unnecessarily as this can be more dangerous than leaving it in place and managing it.
Further information on how to manage asbestos in buildings is available on HSE’s asbestos website: www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos. This includes a step-by-step online guide ‘Managing my asbestos’ (www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/managing) to help you decide if asbestos is present and, if so, how to manage it.
Working with asbestos-containing materials
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply to all types of work involving asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. They place specific duties on employers and the self-employed.
You must find out if asbestos-containing materials are present. If possible, before you start, plan any work to avoid disturbing these materials.
If you have to carry out work which may disturb asbestos-containing materials, you must:
- prevent exposure to asbestos fibres, or where this is not reasonably practicable (see page 12);
- reduce any exposure to as low as reasonably practicable by using appropriate control measures and having management systems in place.
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Anyone who is going to work on asbestos-containing material must be suitably trained and supervised.
Higher-risk work, such as most asbestos removal, must only be undertaken by a licensed contractor, but any decision on whether particular work is licensable is based on an assessment of the risk.
HSE’s asbestos site provides further information, including advice on:
- how to carry out work with asbestos-containing materials;
- the type of controls necessary;
- what training is required;
- what types of work must be carried out by licensed contractors.