Keeping asbestos at bay

Asbestos in the public sector is not a new issue. For as long as asbestos has been identified as a problem, money has been spent on removing it or remediating it in all manner of public buildings. The problem of asbestos is not over by any means; there is a great deal of it still in public buildings and housing stock. What we are asked to do with it is to manage it.
Public buildings built from the mid-1980s onwards should contain only lower risk asbestos containing materials and any built after 1999 should have none.

Duty to manage
Since 2004 the law has required that asbestos in non-domestic premises should be managed. This management is intended to ensure those that occupy the buildings are not exposed to asbestos and those that work upon the fabric of the building are informed about the asbestos that is present, so that they can avoid it.
The law requires that there be a Duty Holder. In public buildings this is normally the delegated responsibility of the property department, who do their best to work around the demands of the organisation.
The implications of the Duty, to spell it out, are:

  • If the building occupants are being exposed to asbestos dust whilst in the public building, it is the chief executive’s fault.
  • If a workman, unknowingly disturbs asbestos in a public building, it is the chief executive’s fault.

What does the duty holder need to do?
The first thing that is needed is an up to date asbestos survey in order to determine a list of what asbestos is present in the premises: the Asbestos Register. The legal requirement is not to have a survey, but to manage the asbestos, but unless you know where it is you cannot manage it.
Regulations requiring compliance are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR 2006). Information about asbestos is readily available from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) is set up with the aim of setting standards in asbestos training and monitoring its members’ competency and performance.
CAR 2006 prescribes three categories of training:

  • Asbestos Awareness training
  • Non-licensed asbestos training
  • Licensed asbestos training.

Asbestos Awareness training is a requirement for anybody that works on the fabric of a building, but with no intention of working with asbestos. Such training typically takes half a day. The Duty Holder should ensure that everybody, contractor, site manager, etc, that works on the fabric of the building, or sends people to do such work, should have undertaken such training.
Non-licensed training is for anybody that works on low risk asbestos containing materials.Licensed asbestos training is only relevant to those you employ to undertake licensed work.

Practical duties
With a survey and some training, you are prepared to manage your asbestos, although extensive training is desirable if you have substantial problems. If remediation or removal is indicated you need advice. What must you do?

  • Prepare a Management Plan, as to how you will manage your asbestos. No need for a huge document; a straightforward statement of what is to be done and who will do it, highlighting problem areas if any.
  • Ensure that whenever a person attends at your premises to work on the fabric of the building, they are shown the asbestos survey/register. If you are using suitably trained contractors, they should ask for it anyway. In public buildings it should be a condition of employing a contractor that he can demonstrate evidence of recent asbestos awareness training. In order to ensure that the training was adequate and suitable UKATA recommends that it should have been carried out by one of our members.
  • Thus the arrangement required by legislation has two aspects: the public building reception should not let the tradesman in without telling him about the asbestos present; and the tradesman should not commence work without asking about the asbestos present.

Is this all worthwhile?
It is extremely worthwhile. Every site manager is very wary of harm coming to the public whilst on the premises. The trouble with asbestos is that the symptoms of this harm will not appear whilst the public is on the premises. It is not the public who are most at risk, it is the people that do work upon the building that need to be of most concern. HSE has already run campaigns highlighting the dangers to tradesmen and another campaign is due in the autumn that will focus on the duty holder.
A great deal of money would be needed to rid all public buildings of asbestos, but good management can improve the situation with minimal cost implications.

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