This practical guide to managing asbestos in the workplace has been written to offer support and guidance to business owners, employers and those responsible for health and safety. It will help the responsible person recognise and understand their obligations in managing and controlling the risks from asbestos at work.
The guide highlights a number of important steps that will help manage asbestos risk, it stresses the importance of the initial risk assessment process, the creation of an asbestos plan, and the need for effective communication. It concludes by reviewing what steps are required if works involving materials containing asbestos cannot be avoided.
Why manage asbestos risk in the workplace?
Anyone who is responsible for non-domestic properties such as a business owner, landlord, occupier or property manager has the legal duty to recognise the risks posed by asbestos, then manage those risks to keep people safe from harm.
Asbestos was commonly used in the past as a flame-retardant building material, but breathing in the fibres which asbestos releases when disturbed can be very dangerous.
Breathing in asbestos fibres can lead to cancer in the future, and asbestos-related diseases currently causes the deaths of 3000 people annually in the UK.
There is no cure for disease caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.
Who is at risk from asbestos?
Any individual who is in your building and in contact with asbestos which is releasing fibres due to disturbance or damage is at risk.
Taking a wider view, anyone whose job involves demolition, refurbishment, drilling or sawing into the fabric of buildings may be at risk, as it’s often impossible to know whether asbestos is present or not.
How to manage asbestos risk
In the UK the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations lay out the law, and apply to anyone who has maintenance or repair responsibilities for non-domestic properties. The Regulations oblige these responsible people to:
- Establish whether there is asbestos present in a building or facility, and if so, in what amounts and condition.
- Assume that building materials do contain asbestos, unless you have proof to the contrary.
- Record the location and condition of asbestos-containing material (ACM) and presumed ACMs.
- Draw up an asbestos risk assessment and plan which details how the business will approach the risk from materials identified.
- Put the plan into action.
- Review and monitor the asbestos plan on an ongoing basis.
- Make the plan and risk assessment for asbestos available to anyone carrying out work on the building.
Assessing the condition of asbestos-containing materials or ACMs
The first step in the creation of an asbestos plan is to look at the condition of any ACMs, as asbestos only poses a risk to people when the fibres are released.
The plan should look at whether surfaces are scratched or frayed, whether materials such as pipe lagging or coatings are coming loose, whether protective coatings are damaged, or whether dust or debris is visible.
It’s important that if you spot signs of deterioration, the materials must be removed, sealed, or enclosed.
Taking action to manage the risks from asbestos
Often, the most appropriate thing to do with asbestos in good condition is to leave it in place, undisturbed.
Record their presence on drawings or plans and keep the information updated.
Many companies keep a register of the location of all ACMs within a building, or label ACMs with signs so maintenance staff are alerted to its presence.
Other companies choose to use a “permit to work” system, where anyone who arrives to do work on the building is only given a permit after management are aware of what they are working on and where, and when the worker has been informed of the risks.
If asbestos is likely to be disturbed or damaged from routine maintenance work, then the best course of action may be to remove the asbestos completely.
This removal work must be carried out by a specialist contractor who has been properly trained in asbestos removal.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) license companies who work with asbestos, whether they are removing it entirely, or just sealing it to make it safe.
Ensuring effective communication about asbestos
The information about location and condition of asbestos shouldn’t be secret, and should be freely available to everyone who needs it.
Any employee or contractor working on a building or site should be aware if the building contains, or is thought to contain, asbestos.
The potential risks of disturbing asbestos should also be made clear.
This requirement also extends to contractors working on the buildings electrical or IT infrastructure who may unwittingly disturb asbestos by drilling or sawing.
Carrying out work on materials containing asbestos
If work is being carried out on materials containing asbestos, then there is a range of precautions to take to minimise risk. These include:
- Keeping all non-essential staff out of the work area
- Taking care not to create dust while working
- Dampening material to stop fibres becoming airborne
- Wearing protective clothing and a suitable respirator mask
- Clearing up using a type H vacuum cleaner
Workers should try to keep pieces of asbestos intact where possible, rather than breaking it into smaller pieces for disposal.
High-speed, dust creating power tools should be avoided, and any protective clothing should be cleaned professionally, or discarded after use.
Specialist environmental risk management solutions for workplaces
WTS offer a comprehensive range of workplace risk management solutions to support employers, health and safety professionals, and facilities management specialists.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification, investigation and prevention of a range of workplace risks.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers, air quality specialists and technicians we offer cost effective environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
Contact us today to learn how our risk management solutions can help improve the safety and performance of your workplace.
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