Asbestos: ditching the dust

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

Asbestos is one of those risks that keeps on giving. Never a month goes by that I don’t read about an asbestos exposure incident where people’s safety has been put in danger, and the fines run into the tens of thousands of pounds. So, building owners, managers and contractors working on your premises need to know where it is – or where it might be.

“Does my building contain asbestos?”

You would be amazed at just how much asbestos was used within building construction through the years. Any premises built before the year 2000 could contain it, so if you aren’t sure, presume that it does – that’s what the law tells you to do anyway. Don’t underestimate the term ‘presumption’ where asbestos is concerned. If you say to an investigating officer that you didn’t know it was there, they will just turn around and tell you that you should have presumed it was.

Examples of where asbestos is usually found includes artexed or textured ceiling tiles, floor tiles, fire resisting products, corrugated cement roofs and walls. If you have any of these and they are old, they will probably contain asbestos, so beware.

“Who is responsible?”

The person responsible is the duty holder.

The duty holder is anyone responsible for maintaining and repairing all or part of the property or who has control over the building. This could be the occupier, the landlord or the owner.

According to the law the duty holder must:

  • Find out whether the building contains asbestos and what condition it is in
  • Assess the risk of the asbestos releasing fibres
  • Make a plan to manage the risk.

Well as I see it if your premises was built before the year 2000 and contains some of those tell-tale signs such as artexed ceilings, then you need to get a survey done. Yes, there’s a cost, but it is far better than putting someone’s life at risk and the fines and possible imprisonment that could follow.

“But I know the premises and am certain there is no asbestos”

If you are confident that it doesn’t contain any asbestos, you could forego the survey, but you must remain cautious. I would write out a statement explaining that the building appears to be free from asbestos but just in case, before any building work takes place, you will arrange for a check by a competent person to make sure there is none. You can go on to state that if there is the slightest suspicion that asbestos might actually be present, you won’t do the work until you get a specialist in to confirm whether it is or not.

I don’t think you can be too careful, and my recommendation is usually if in doubt take the safest option. Shop around for a survey as the difference in cost can be substantial. Make sure that whoever is going to do the survey is qualified – just ask for their UKAS accreditation certificate and check the UKAS database.

Help is at hand

You can talk to a safety professional at Safety For Business simply by calling 08456 344 164. You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your Health & Safety needs.

We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs. So what have you got to lose?

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