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IOSH Article - Best practice: managing asbestos

The UK now has the highest death rate from mesothelioma in the world. This shocking statistic was revealed in a recent HSE report showing that mesothelioma killed 1,740 men and 316 women in the UK in 2006. In this feature, Connect reminds readers what they need to do if they’re involved in managing buildings.

What is asbestos?
The three most common types of asbestos usually found in buildings are chrysotile (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue). Asbestos can easily break into tiny fibres which float in the air and, when inhaled, can cause serious health problems. All types are dangerous, although crocidolite is considered to be the most dangerous. Asbestos-related diseases people suffer from include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Asbestos in buildings
Many thousands of tons of asbestos have been used in the construction of buildings for generations – and much of it is still in place. Around half a million commercial buildings and a million domestic buildings in the UK are thought to contain asbestos. Asbestos was finally prohibited (other than for very specialist uses) in the UK in November 1999 so buildings constructed (or materials installed in older buildings) since 2000 can be presumed to be free from asbestos. Asbestos is likely to be present if:

the building was constructed or refurbished between 1950 and 1980
the building has a metal frame
the building has boilers with thermal insulation
Its most common uses were as:

a coating on concrete walls and ceilings for both fire protection and insulation
lagging on pipework
insulation boards used as partition walls and ceiling tiles
asbestos cement products such as roof and wall sheeting, tiles, cold water tanks, gutters and pipes
Managing asbestos exposure
Anyone who manages the maintenance of non-domestic buildings that contain, or may contain, asbestos must consider the risk of exposure to workers and others and must have a management system in place to identify, assess and manage any asbestos materials on the premises. The system should include:

a survey of all building materials
an assessment of the risks from any identified asbestos materials
a record of all materials identified as containing asbestos, or suspected of containing it
appropriate procedures to prevent or control exposure
monitoring procedures
emergency procedures if the materials are accidentally disturbed
regular review
Asbestos Record or Register
A register must be created containing information on the materials used and whether they contain asbestos. It’s impossible to identify materials that contain asbestos just by looking at them – laboratory analysis is the only way of being certain.

There are three levels of survey:

a presumptive survey - all materials are presumed to contain asbestos unless there's strong evidence that they don't
a standard sampling survey - samples of materials will be taken and analysed
a full access or intrusive survey - material samples are taken that are not readily accessible. This may mean making holes in brickwork or concrete to get to the parts of a building that may contain asbestos. This type of survey is necessary if there are plans to demolish a building or carry out major renovations
The survey must be carried out by a 'competent person' - someone who:

has appropriate training and experience
is able to demonstrate independence, impartiality and integrity
has an adequate quality assurance procedure
There's no legal requirement to use a survey company accredited by UKAS to ISO/IEC 17020 for asbestos surveys, but there are benefits in doing so. It is a legal requirement for laboratories carrying out bulk sampling and analysis of materials to identify asbestos to be accredited by UKAS to ISO 17025.

The surveyor should:

hold a preliminary site meeting with the client
carry out a study of any existing drawings, floor plans and specifications and investigate the different construction phases as well as any history of major renovation work
prepare the survey plan
carry out a risk assessment for doing the survey
specify how the survey data are to be recorded and presented
Assessment of asbestos-related materials
If asbestos-containing materials are found, then an assessment will need to be carried out which will consist of a 'Material assessment' and a 'Priority assessment'.

Material assessment

The survey team will rate the material for likelihood of fibres being released based on factors such as product type (asbestos cement, asbestos insulating board and friable materials such as sprayed coatings), damage or deterioration, surface treatment and asbestos type.

Priority assessment

The occupier of the building should consider the likelihood of the materials being disturbed. Factors such as general activity, exposure potential and maintenance activity need to be considered.

Corrective measures
If any material containing asbestos is in good condition, is not likely to be damaged, worked on or disturbed, then it's safest to leave it in place and introduce a management system. It may be decided that to reduce risk further, certain corrective measures should be carried out. These measures could include minor repairs, enclosure (involving the construction of airtight walls and ceilings around asbestos-containing materials) or encapsulation to control the release of asbestos fibres in the air. Any corrective measures must not expose the workers carrying them out, or anyone else, to risk from the asbestos.

Employers must make sure that all work which may disturb materials containing asbestos is carried out in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

The work must be carried out by workers whose employer has a licence issued by the HSE unless they are minor works with a very low risk of exposure. Regulation 3(2) of the Asbestos Regulations has details of the exemption.

If the decision is made to remove any of the materials, then the work will usually be carried out by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. The issue of a licence by the HSE doesn’t, in itself, confirm competence, so the following should be considered:

the actual licence issued by the HSE must be produced – not a photocopy
what period does the licence cover? A licence issued only for 12 months suggests that the contractor is either new to the work or the HSE has some concerns
detailed training records of managers and employees
examples of method statements prepared for previous jobs
references from other clients
The contractor must produce a plan of work or method statement detailing how they will carry out the work. The document should be agreed before work starts and must be available near the working area – this is covered under Regulation 7 of the Asbestos Regulations.

The purpose of an asbestos management system is to make sure that the right measures are taken by maintenance workers and outside contractors whenever work is done which could disturb asbestos-related materials. The system should include:

an assessment of any work which may disturb the fabric of the building to be certain that materials containing asbestos won't be affected
notice to those working in the building that they must not disturb the fabric of the building without permission
informing maintenance teams and outside contractors where asbestos-containing materials are located
warning signs or labels on materials containing asbestos
Asbestos-related training
Training courses are required for members of the property management group and maintenance supervisors and staff. Training should be given on:

potential hazards associated with exposure
location of asbestos-containing materials
personal protection
proper handling of asbestos-containing materials
asbestos waste disposal
maintenance records
Periodic assessment should be performed on all asbestos-containing materials which remain in the building. How frequent the surveillance is will depend on factors such as the condition of the materials, accessibility and level of activity in the area.

Our thanks to Terry ap Hywel who contributed to this article.

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