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Asbestos: what is the risk and how can you overcome it?

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral fibre which is mined from rock seams around the world, including Canada, South Africa, Russia and China. Asbestos has a number of unique properties such as thermal stability and a high tensile strength, which are extremely useful in construction. As a result, asbestos was used extensively in the UK in the last century, with peak uses of the most hazardous materials in the 1950-70s. 

Asbestos can now potentially be found in any building constructed before the year 2000 including churches, houses, factories, offices, schools and hospitals.

  • Could asbestos be present in my building?

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    Asbestos was used in more than 3,000 man-made products including insulation, boards, cement, textiles, vinyl and many other materials. If your building was constructed before the year 1999, it could contain asbestos. Even historical and listed buildings can contain asbestos - if it wasn’t used in the original construction it could have been introduced during the life of the building through refurbishment and other modifications.

  • But isn’t asbestos bad for your health?

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    Yes, asbestos is a category one carcinogen. Prolonged exposure to large amounts of airborne asbestos fibre can cause fatal cancers if you breathe them in. 

    The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that asbestos related diseases cause around 5,000 deaths every year in the UK, primarily through the development of lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. The realisation of its catastrophic effects on health resulted in the gradual prohibition of asbestos with the use of white asbestos finally banned in the UK as recently as 1999.

Is there a legal requirement to manage asbestos safely? 

Yes. In a bid to prevent further deaths the Government introduced a set of specific health and safety regulations to help control and manage asbestos in the workplace. 

The HSE now actively enforces the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012). Regulation 4 defines a ‘duty holder’ as the owner of non-domestic premises or persons or organisations that have clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of such premises (e.g. through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract). They are the people with a legal responsibility for protecting others from the risk of asbestos exposure through the safe management of asbestos in the buildings they are responsible for.

Ok, so I think that I could have asbestos in my building and that I could be a duty holder. What do I do next?

To fulfil your legal obligations as a duty holder and keep people safe, a number of things need to be in place. One of the first things to do is to find out whether asbestos is present in your building. Usually this will be by commissioning a UKAS accredited Asbestos Management Survey. This will involve a detailed inspection of the whole building, taking samples of suspect materials and undertaking a risk assessment. The surveyors report will include an asbestos register, certificates of analysis, photographs and plans identifying what type of asbestos is present and where. 

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The recommended control and management actions of the risk assessment may include the removal of asbestos in poor condition by a Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractor, making the material safe or just monitoring it if it is in good condition. If some types of asbestos are removed you should obtain UKAS accredited certification as evidence that the area is safe to be reoccupied.

Before starting any demolition or refurbishment work a UKAS accredited Asbestos Refurbishment and Demolition Survey should be undertaken to ensure that any asbestos which may be affected by the works is identified and appropriately managed.

If your organisation is an employer then certain people will be subject to Regulation 10, Information, Instruction and Training. This means that anyone who may come into contact with asbestos at work or who is responsible for managing it must have the relevant training and competency to do so. Other aspects of an effective asbestos management system will be the Management Plan itself, a condition monitoring schedule, emergency procedures and so on, all tailored to your organisation.

Written by Amy Jones, Business Development Manager, Santia Asbestos Management Ltd
Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.