Last edited 19 May 2021

Asbestos in construction

All types of asbestos can kill.

Asbestos was fully banned in the UK in 1999, but it remains the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. The time between exposure and disease varies widely. 20 tradespeople die each week from asbestos related disease. Refurbishment, alteration and demolition projects are affected by asbestos in buildings. Material condition and type are key factors in the danger presented.

This article presents a brief overview of work with asbestos containing materials. Professional advice is essential in relation to asbestos.

You MUST have an appropriate survey and removal (if required) carried out by a competent surveyor or contractor. This process can take time and it is important that project programmes allow a realistic amount of time for this work and that budgets allow for realistic resources.

It is important that a full brief is provided for the survey in accordance with Asbestos: The survey guide HSG264. The surveyor must be made fully aware of work to be carried out and where access for construction is required. A survey may require access behind asbestos containing materials and therefore a contractor may be needed on site to open up the construction. Whilst sample analysis and report production take time and resources, a careful, proper, full survey will save time and cost on site and is a wise investment.

Asbestos is categorised as licensable or non-licensable in the UK (changes introduced by the new Control of Asbestos Regulations in April 2012 have now created a new category of notifiable non-licensable work). Contractors for licensable asbestos removal are held on a list by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Some asbestos-containing materials are non-licensable, such as asbestos cement panels and matrix-bound asbestos toilet cisterns. These may be removed by non-licence holders but the work must be carried out in accordance with HSE requirements by suitably trained personnel for the work (that is, personnel that have had training for work with non-notifies blue asbestos, not to be confused with asbestos awareness training).

All asbestos containing materials and asbestos contaminated waste must be disposed of to an Environment Agency licensed asbestos landfill site, carried by vehicles marked with hazardous waste signage.

Asbestos removal is covered by specific regulations with a strict 14-day notification period to the HSE before works can take place. If additional asbestos is found on site, unless there is strong case for a waiver (only granted for cases of imminent risk, for example, where the asbestos was not foreseeable and substantial financial loss would occur), method statements and notification periods are required by the HSE. A waiver is not taken lightly and the best approach is to ensure that a good quality survey is undertaken prior to the commencement of works on site.

The removal of asbestos is undertaken under very controlled conditions. There are exceptions, where asbestos is in a bound matrix (such as asbestos cement panels) and in a good condition (in accordance with proposed changes in the asbestos regulations for April 2012 where an additional class of notifiable non-licensable asbestos has been proposed created).

Asbestos removal is a specialised function. Proper decontamination facilities are needed for the workforce and a dedicated transit route must be provided to an enclosure kept under negative pressure. Airlocks need to be in place at the enclosure for air movement control and to permit those working to carry out preliminary decontamination procedures. Asbestos waste must be double bagged in labelled asbestos bags and properly stored in lockable skips on the transit route.

A rigorous, independent analyst inspection regime is in place providing a four stage clearance certification for removal of asbestos containing materials from site. This includes air monitoring within enclosures prior to dismantling the enclosure and visual inspection on completion of the work.

NB: The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 means that some non-licensed work must now be notified, written records kept, and by April 2015, workers must be under health surveillance by a doctor.

The following is a detailed list of components where the use of asbestos might be detected (ref. list published by Greenhalgh & Co, Chartered Surveyors):

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states:

asbestos” means the following fibrous silicates—

(a) asbestos actinolite, CAS No 77536-66-4;

(b) asbestos grunerite (amosite), CAS No 12172-73-5;

(c) asbestos anthophyllite, CAS No 77536-67-5;

(d) chrysotile, CAS No 12001-29-5 or CAS No 132207-32-0;

(e) crocidolite, CAS No 12001-28-4; and

(f) asbestos tremolite, CAS No 77536-68-6,

and reference to “CAS” followed by a numerical sequence are references to CAS Registry Numbers assigned to chemicals by the Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society;

NB: On 30 September 2015, the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) published a free guidance note for clients appointing asbestos contractors.

In June 2018, it was announced that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was proposing allowing greater use of asbestos in construction materials. The US already allows the use of asbestos in products where it accounts for less than one percent. It is now considering a 'significant new use rule', evaluated on a case-by-case basis. President Trump had previously written; 'I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.'

See also: Asbestos management.

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