Asbestos is the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It has a serious effect on the lives of those working within the construction industry. Each week nearly 40 tradesmen on average die from what is known as the ‘hidden killer’. In fact, in the UK, around 5,000 people die each year due to past asbestos exposure. Thousands more are diagnosed with fatal asbestos diseases.
Asbestos surveys are required by law, because of the high risks that asbestos materials present when they are found in buildings.
There are two types of asbestos survey:
Asbestos was used in UK construction from the early 1900s. It was used extensively in building materials in the 50s 60s 70s and 80s and wasn't banned in the UK until 1999. Any building built or refurbished within that period is likely to contain asbestos. That is a lot of buildings.
So which buildings contain asbestos, and where can you find it? It is difficult to tell from just looking at a material whether it contains asbestos, and most of the time, the asbestos-containing materials may be hidden beneath other materials.
That is why we need asbestos surveys. An asbestos survey is the only way to know for certain if you have asbestos.
Asbestos surveys are carried out by an asbestos expert (the asbestos surveyor) to check for asbestos containing materials. These materials could look like normal plasterboard, or insulation, or concrete products, but they actually contain deadly asbestos fibres.
A building may require one type of asbestos survey, the other, or both, depending on what you are doing in the building.
This first and simplest type of asbestos survey is the management survey. This is usually a visual inspection, noting the condition of asbestos-containing materials, and any risk during normal occupancy. This type of survey usually involves only minimal sampling and minor intrusive work. The surveyor may presume some materials are asbestos-containing without taking samples.
Any non-domestic building build before 2000 should have a management asbestos survey in place. Any person with responsibilities regarding the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises has a duty to manage asbestos under the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The management asbestos survey is part of that duty.
Management surveys can involve a combination of sampling to confirm asbestos is present or presuming asbestos to be present.
While a management asbestos survey would not usually be required in domestic buildings, it would be needed for any shared parts, such as foyers, corridors and lobbies in a block of flats for example.
Therefore many buildings with public access or tenanted properties will have a management survey in place (formally a type 2 survey).
The management survey gives you the information needed to manage and monitor asbestos-containing materials. This will include preparing an asbestos register and developing an asbestos management plan. Providing materials remain in good condition they do not pose a threat during normal occupancy, as providing asbestos is not disturbed, it does not harm you.
However, this type of survey is not suitable for construction or refurbishment work, or extensive maintenance work.
You need a management asbestos survey during normal occupation of a building. This is required on any non-domestic buildings or shared parts of domestic buildings built pre 2000.
During construction work is when asbestos-containing materials are most likely to be disturbed. Once materials are disturbed and the fibres released, these can be breathed in by those close by. When asbestos fibres enter your lungs, you are at risk of developing fatal asbestos diseases.
How do you know if you have breathed asbestos in? Unless you identify the asbestos-containing material, you won’t. There are no immediate effects. However, what doesn’t hurt you now may kill you in 20 years time.
A refurbishment and demolition survey (previously known as a type 3 survey) is needed when materials are being disturbed as part of a refurbishment or demolition project, or other types of construction work. This type of survey is fully intrusive, and the building or areas being surveyed will usually need to be vacated so that extensive samples can be taken.
- An employer must not undertake work in demolition, maintenance or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose employees of that employer to asbestos in respect of any premises unless...
- that employer has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present.
The survey should cover the area or materials that will be disturbed. You do not need to survey the entire building if work is only taking place in one room. Any suspected materials will be samples and tested in a laboratory. The results let contractors know what they will be dealing with, so they can take the right precautions.
Some types of asbestos materials are licensed. This means that only licensed contractors can carry out work on the material. A licensed contractor will notify the HSE, and remove the asbestos under controlled conditions. The asbestos survey will contain information on the type of asbestos identified, so that you can make arrangements to remove if necessary.
All asbestos waste is hazardous and requires careful removal and waste transfer to a licensed site.
You need a refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey before carrying out construction work. This must be carried out on any building built before 2000, unless you know for certain there is no asbestos present (due to prior removal or other evidence).
A refurbishment and demolition survey is 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 ACMs in the area where the refurbishment work will take place or in the whole building if demolition is planned.
Download the free asbestos surveys toolbox talk as a reminder of the two types of asbestos survey, and when you need them.