Asbestos surveying – an overview

By now we all know the dangers of asbestos.  What once was thought to be a fabulous, naturally forming material that was perfect for insulation, was ultimately discovered to be fibrous, and those fibres to be carcinogenic.  So, if asbestos is suspected (of which more later), a survey must be made of the property in order to test all materials for the presence of asbestos.

The purpose of such a survey is, of course, to check for asbestos in the first instance.  The surveyor will subsequently test for the kind of asbestos present, as well as the location and quantity of the material.  The surveyor will further record the state of the material, surface condition and also its accessibility, in terms of further treatment.

These surveys can take various forms and it is the responsibility of both the building’s owner, as well as the surveyor, to be equally confident in the kind of survey required, where it is needed, and what results are desired.  There are two main survey types:

Refurbishment / Demolition Survey

The Refurbishment / Demolition Survey is the more extensive of the two.  A surveyor is required for these works, ensuring the testing will be done in the right way, by the right contractor.  It also ensures that no persons will be harmed by the work on the asbestos, whether in the premises or on any equipment.

The Refurbishment / Demolition Survey will firstly locate the asbestos before any works commence at a building, or on equipment within that building.  This survey does entail destructive inspection, and therefore the disturbance of asbestos and for this reason the site must be vacated ahead of the survey, and also declared fit for reoccupation, after the survey has been completed.

The survey won’t record the condition of the asbestos since it is likely that whatever the condition, the site will need refurbishment or complete demolition.

Management survey

The Management Survey (sometimes known as the Type 2 Survey) is slightly less intrusive, looking instead to manage the asbestos material during the standard occupation and use of the site.  The survey seeks instead to ensure that nobody disturbs the asbestos, it remains in good condition, and of course that no one is compromised by the presence of ACM.  As above, a surveyor can be contracted should the task be rather more complex than imagined, otherwise the building owner or duty-holder can make their own survey, themselves.

As compared to the Refurbishment / Demolition Survey, the Management Survey involves more minor intrusion, and modest disturbance of the asbestos; to firstly locate the material and then take a view on whether that asbestos might be disturbed by the normal running of the business.  The survey will reveal, for instance, whether disturbed asbestos will release those very dangerous fibres, allowing the duty-holder to make a decision on any further works to the site

These are the surveys, then, but as discussed, how will you know if you need to undertake one or other of these surveys?   Well there are simple requirements laid down in law by the Health and Safety Executive.  Firstly, if the site has already been shown to contain asbestos, you will need to conduct a fresh survey each year.  Secondly, will need a Refurbishment / Demolition Survey if the property was built before 2000, and you now want to conduct refurbishment or demolition work.  Finally you will need an Asbestos Management Survey if the property is non-domestic, and was built before the year 2000.


Management responsibilities for asbestos

Asbestos (sometimes more broadly extended to ACM… asbestos-containing materials) can be extremely dangerous, and is still present in many older buildings in the UK.  However, the material is only dangerous when moved, whereupon it might release the fibres into the air that can, unfortunately, lead to some kinds of cancers.  Sometimes, therefore, it is more a matter of containment, and management, than removal; if successfully managed, it won’t present a health hazard.  Equally, you don’t always need to bring in an expert to make the call on what any suspect material is, and what might need be done with it.

However, someone does need to be in place to make this call, to establish the practical steps needed to protect people from exposure to ACM, to maintain the management of the material and to request outside help where it is felt that it might be needed.  That person is assigned with the ‘duty to manage’ role, which will now be explained within this article.

Firstly, you may be wondering what buildings might fit this category.  Broadly speaking, these rules will apply to all non-domestic premises – so shops, hospitals, factories, warehouses and offices – essentially all pubic, commercial and industrial buildings.  This also extends to the common areas of certain domestic premises, such as flats, whether blocks of flats or house conversions.

Secondly, if this list covers you, you might further ask who has this duty to manage?  In a non-domestic setting, the role will fall to the site manager, or the person usually entrusted with the workplace safety of all employees.  The duty holder might also be the person, or persons, responsible for the maintenance of the site, as stipulated in a tenancy contract.

Asbestos risk management

OK, so what does the duty to manage entail?  As stipulated in the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, the duty holder needs to take the appropriate steps to discover whether there is indeed any ACM in the premises, the location of that material, as well as its condition and quantity.  Where there is any doubt, government advice is to err on the side of caution and presume the material contains asbestos.

There is, further, a requirement to keep a record of that information, and to keep that record up-to-date should circumstances change, whilst also assessing any risks to people in the building.  Those risks must be set out in a management plan that can easily be put into action, and can be monitored and reviewed, to ensure currency.  Finally, this information must be made available to anyone likely to disturb the material; and from the other perspective, any persons involved must also fully assist the duty holder in the execution of their duties.

So, if you feel you have a building that meets this category, and that you might be the duty holder, what do you have to do?  Let’s distill what we have discussed here into three simple stages.  Firstly, find out if the premises do indeed contain asbestos and if they do, what condition it is in.  Secondly, assess the risk of the presence of that asbestos and finally, create a plan to manage that risk, and to act on that risk if needed.

Carefully read through these stages and there should be no undue problems, should your building be found to contain asbestos.