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Asbestos: Manage or remove?

23 January 2013

Asbestos remains the world's number one industrial killer. So why don't we just remove it all? Ian Guest of asbestos specialist Assist FM explains...

Asbestos remains the world's number one industrial killer. So why don't we just remove it all? Ian Guest of asbestos specialist Assist FM explains

Asbestos is a major health and safety challenge to which there is, sadly, no simple answer.

There is, however, a straight-forward and sensible path for deciding the right course of action.

Identification Stage one is identification. An asbestos survey will show if you have asbestos present in your building. As with any work of this type, you should ensure that the contractor conducting the survey has all the relevant accreditations. UKAS accreditation (ISO 17020), for instance, is recommended, while any further quality accreditations such as ISO 9001 or CHAS should provide further peace of mind and you should also ask for details of the surveyor's laboratory testing samples.

Assess the risk If the survey finds asbestos, it moves to the risk assessment stage. The first factor of risk is the condition of the asbestos and were it is located. There is obviously a much greater risk if the asbestos is found in, for instance, an office than in the basement. That isn't to say that asbestos found in a basement is any less dangerous than asbestos in an office per se. But in an office there is arguably a much greater chance of it being disturbed and a far greater number of people who need to be made aware of its presence and location to prevent potential disturbance.

Action plan Once you have assessed the risk, the next step is to decide the plan of action - whether that be to remove or to manage.

While the natural instinct might always be towards removal, it should be remembered that asbestos is dangerous only when it is inhaled. The removal of asbestos, by its very nature, can cause fibres that were previously in a "safe" state to be released to the atmosphere, where they are unsafe. Therefore, if the asbestos is in good condition and is not likely to be damaged or worked on or disturbed it is usually safer to leave it in place and manage it. But if the asbestos is in poor condition or is likely to be damaged or disturbed, the decision is whether to repair, seal, enclose or remove it. If you are unsure of the condition of the asbestos, consult an accredited asbestos surveyor who will be able to advise you.

Managing asbestos If management is advised as the safer option, it is the building manager who is responsible for ensuring everyone who needs to know about the asbestos is effectively informed of its presence. For compliance with Control of Asbestos Regulations CAR2012, a method must be employed that will ensure anyone inhouse or who comes to carry out work on the premises does not start before they are given the relevant information on any asbestos present. Combined with a permitto- work system, the most advisable method is to use a web portal to keep a record of where the asbestos is, and any further details needed. Keeping a record online means that all the details are fully accessible 24-7 from a laptop or smart phone and that all records can easily be kept one hundred percent up-to-date. The web portal details should be supplied well before work is intended to start so that the correct precautions can be implemented. Some damaged asbestos can be made safe by repairing it and either sealing or enclosing it to prevent further damage. If this can be done safely, the area should be marked and its location recorded. Everybody carrying out work on site must be given the online records of the asbestos threat.

Removal If it is likely asbestos could be disturbed during routine maintenance or every day use of the building, it should be removed unless it can be totally sealed or protected.

All work, whether removal or management, must be carried out by a licensed contractor.

Like all health and safety issues, a professional and informed approach can ensure asbestos need not be a problem.