30th August, 2023

What Is An Asbestos Survey?

An asbestos survey is a survey to find and identify asbestos-containing materials in a building, property, or structure. Often a legal requirement, the asbestos survey will help establish the type and quantity of asbestos materials and where they are in the building.

What Is An Asbestos Survey? header image

What is an asbestos survey? Simply put, an asbestos survey is a search for asbestos materials. An asbestos survey is a survey undertaken within a building, property or structure, to identify asbestos-containing materials.

Any building built before 2000 in the UK is likely to contain asbestos. And that can be a scary thought because asbestos is deadly. It has the number one spot on our top 5 health risks at work, and it kills thousands of people each year.

Once you have been exposed to asbestos fibres, they attack your body. Silently, quietly, they hook in, and your body can't fight them. Over time, lung disease and cancer can develop. Often, with fatal consequences.

Despite being banned in the UK for the past 20 years, asbestos can still be found in many buildings in the UK.

Before the ban in 1999, asbestos was very popular, especially in the 1950s-1980s, because it was cheap, strong, and had good insulation properties. So it got used, a lot.

That doesn't mean that every building older than the year 2000 will contain asbestos - it just means that it might.

Asbestos is only deadly when it is disturbed. But, to avoid disturbing asbestos materials, we need to know where they are. But you can't see asbestos, because the fibres are tiny and hidden in hundreds of different building products.

asbestos fibres tiny

Asbestos-containing materials don't necessarily look any different from other building materials, and they can often be hidden.

So there's no way for you to know if a building contains asbestos without an asbestos survey.

To help reduce the incidents of accidental asbestos disturbance, it is one of the requirements of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations to identify asbestos-containing materials. That means it's not optional, asbestos surveys are a legal requirement.

This is an important legal requirement because accidental disturbance of asbestos is harmful to health, and asbestos is the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road.

Your asbestos survey will tell you:

When is an asbestos survey needed?

Asbestos surveys are needed on many types of buildings. Any type of building, including homes, hospitals, offices, schools, churches, factories, warehouses, etc.

The type of building doesn't matter - asbestos could be anywhere. The type of survey does matter (more on that shortly).

Any building built before 2000 will likely need an asbestos survey during its remaining lifetime.

Asbestos surveys are needed:

Some buildings need asbestos surveys during their normal occupation. If you work in a building built before 2000, it probably needs an asbestos survey.

office building

For normal building occupation, you'll need a management asbestos survey. This survey is required on any commercial or public buildings and communal parts of domestic buildings (like corridors, reception areas etc).

All buildings (pre-2000) need an asbestos survey during construction work or maintenance. If you work in construction, you need to know about asbestos surveys.

Any kind of work on a building (including maintenance) could disturb asbestos. Hanging shelves. Servicing boilers. Replacing ceiling tiles. Changing flooring. Adding insulation. If you don't know what material you are drilling, cutting, moving or replacing, it could contain asbestos.

The refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey is the type of survey you need for construction work and is required in all areas affected by the construction work, for example, upgrades, refurbishments or demolition.

For some buildings, you might need both types of asbestos survey. For example, a factory might have a management asbestos survey, but then plans a refurbishment of the canteen and offices. Those areas will need the refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey before construction work starts.

What does an asbestos survey involve?

Both types of asbestos survey will involve an asbestos surveyor visiting the building to look for asbestos.

The asbestos surveyor will seek out any asbestos materials that are present and create a record of them (the survey report).

completing a survey checklist

Because asbestos fibres can't be identified by eye, during an asbestos survey, samples may need to be taken. The material can then be examined in a laboratory, to identify if asbestos is present, and what type of asbestos it is.

How much disturbance, sampling and intrusion is needed for the asbestos survey will depend on the type of survey you are having.

The management asbestos survey is mostly a visual inspection and aims to locate the type and condition of asbestos materials, with guidance for any remedial work or high-risk materials.

A management asbestos survey will not usually require the building to be empty. It is often non-intrusive and only locates asbestos-containing materials that may be disturbed by normal activities (e.g. easily disturbed, easily accessible). Some samples may be taken.

The refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey is more in-depth because it's done before construction work. The surveyor will aim to inspect any materials that may be disturbed by the construction work, so it is a more intrusive survey.

Samples will be taken of all materials and sent for testing to confirm if asbestos is present and what type.

Because this type of survey is intrusive and may involve disturbing asbestos-containing materials, the building (or areas of the building) will usually need to be empty for the survey to take place.

damaged wall material

How often should an asbestos survey be completed?

Asbestos management is not a one-off event. When asbestos is present, it should be regularly re-inspected for deterioration. This might not mean another full survey, but you are required to manage and re-inspect asbestos-containing materials regularly and keep your asbestos management plan valid and up-to-date.

If you can see that asbestos-containing materials are deteriorating, or the risk of disturbance has changed, perhaps due to the use of that area of the building changing, then you must review your management and decide what action is needed to keep people safe.

Another survey or assessment from an expert might be necessary, especially if you suspect that, due to the changes, the plan is no longer valid.

The purpose of the survey is to help manage asbestos in the dutyholder’s premises. The survey has to provide sufficient information for: an asbestos register and plan to be prepared, a suitable risk assessment to be carried out and a written plan to manage the risks to be produced.

A refurbishment and demolition survey will always need to be completed for construction work on pre-2000 buildings, even if you already have a management asbestos survey in place.

Following any removal, encapsulation, or other remedial work on asbestos-containing materials, the asbestos management plan will need to be updated for the building (unless the work removed all asbestos materials).

An up-to-date asbestos survey will enable you to manage the risks of asbestos. When you know where asbestos is and what condition, you can plan how to use the building safely.

You can also organise the removal of any asbestos materials that are likely to be disturbed or are deteriorating and becoming dangerous to occupants.

asbestos fibres strong

With asbestos-related diseases, prevention is much better than cure. Because, in most cases, there is no cure. Once you have been exposed to asbestos, it's too late to go back.

An asbestos survey is an important step in establishing what asbestos-containing materials are present, but it is important to get the right type of asbestos survey. Different types of work need different types of surveys. What is happening within the building will affect how likely it is that materials (including any asbestos) to be disturbed.

Find out more about asbestos survey types in the two types of asbestos survey (and when you need them).

Download the free asbestos survey toolbox talk as a reminder of the risks, and let your team know the dangers with the asbestos awareness toolbox talk.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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