When is it Necessary to Remove Asbestos and Who Can Do it?

Shaun Lundy from 4site Consulting advises on when it is necessary to remove asbestos and who can do it.

Duty to Manage

Regulation 4 of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 relates to the Duty to manage Asbestos in non-domestic premises outlining that if you own, occupy, manage or have responsibility for a property then you are legally obliged to assess and manage the risk from Asbestos. You will also need to make decisions regarding the retention, remediation and removals of any Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs); with the assistance of the Asbestos Management Survey. In most cases, Asbestos doesn’t cause danger unless it is disturbed or damaged, therefore, does not necessarily need to be removed. The Asbestos Management Survey will often help to advise on the best steps to take, and why.

What is Asbestos?

There are three types of asbestos: 'blue asbestos' (Crocidolite), 'brown asbestos' (Amosite) and 'white asbestos' (Chrysotile). Chrysotile (white) asbestos is the most commonly found, and the latest to be banned. Until it was finally banned in 1999, it was common-place for Asbestos to be used in the building and construction industry due to its exceptional physical and chemical properties and its resistance to burning, chemicals, and electrics. It was often used in buildings for fire proofing, electrical insulation, sound insulation, and flooring and roofing products. If a Landlord or Property Manager is unsure if a property contains asbestos, or know that it likely does, then they will need to carry out an Asbestos Management Survey to collect and analyse samples and confirm whether asbestos is present or not.

The Dangers of Asbestos

One of the most dangerous aspects of Asbestos is that it is a friable material; meaning it can easily crumble. When this happens, the deadly fibres are released and become airborne. If breathed in, they can cause asbestos related illnesses such as Mesothelioma and Asbestosis. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of some of the body’s organs, and is almost exclusively related to Asbestos exposure. Over 2,500 people are diagnosed with Mesothelioma each year and although it is possible to undergo treatment such as chemotherapy or surgery, the outcome is usually fatal. Other illnesses include Asbestosis and Asbestos-related Lung Cancer, which are also usually fatal. An Asbestos Survey will help to establish whether an ACM is friable or non-friable and determine whether or not the ACM will need to be removed from the premises.

When is it Necessary to Remove Asbestos?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), if ACMs are in good condition and are undisturbed, they are usually considered safe as it is unlikely that airborne asbestos fibres will be released into the air. This is why it is often safer to leave the ACMs and review their condition over time than to have them removed. In fact, the removal of existing ACMs can actually pose a significant risk of exposure to asbestos. It is important that the conditions of the ACMs are reviewed, as the state of the product can change. For instance, Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) can accidentally be damaged or sometimes drilled through in order to gain access to electrical wires. If an asbestos survey has been carried out and contractors have access to this, they will know where the asbestos is and should not to disturb it. To keep the register up to date annual re-inspections are required to update the register if the condition of any ACM changes. It is also vital that contactors carrying out work on a site have access to the reports, before any work takes place. In cases where it is not necessary to have the ACMs removed, it is possible to have them protected or encapsulated by applying an impervious material, which is secured over or around the ACM, and is designed to prevent the release of fibres under foreseeable conditions, such as vibration, impact and age degradation. In order to decide what the best approach is, Landlords should consider the type and condition of the ACM and whether it is possible for further damage to occur. It is also important to consider whether encapsulation is being used to defer removal which may eventually need to take place anyway.

It becomes necessary to remove asbestos when ACMs are too damaged to encapsulate, and there is a foreseeable risk of releasing fibres. This can occur if ACMs such as ceiling tiles, pipe lagging, or cement sheets are in bad condition and likely to be disturbed; usually during contractual works. In addition to this, if a property is being demolished, or is due to have works carried out any ACMs will need to be identified and removed beforehand. In this case, a Refurbishment and Demolition Survey will need to take place in order to locate, as far as reasonably practicable, all ACMs within the building so that they can be removed. These types of surveys are intrusive and involve an element of destruction in order to gain access to areas and remove any ACMs present.

Who Can Remove the Asbestos Containing Materials?

If the Asbestos Management Survey makes recommendations to have ACMs removed, then the responsible person will need to contact a third-party asbestos removal company in order to have this carried out. In most cases, where the ACMs are large and friable, a licenced asbestos removal company will be required. A licence is not required in cases where the area of ACM is less than 10 square metres, the ACM is not friable and the removal work does not exceed 1 hour in a period of 7 days.

The HSE states that for Asbestos works that is not notifiable or licenced it must meet at least one of the four following conditions:

  • It is a short non-continuous maintenance task, with only non-friable materials (friability describes how likely an ACM is to release asbestos fibres when worked on, so non-friable materials will only release a small number of fibres during work); or
  • It is a removal task, where the ACMs are in reasonable condition and are not being deliberately broken up, and the asbestos fibres are firmly contained within a matrix, e.g. the asbestos is coated, covered or contained within another material, such as cement, paint or plastic; or
  • It is a task where the ACMs are in good condition and are being sealed or encapsulated to ensure they are not easily damaged in the future; or
  • It is an air monitoring and control task to check fibre concentrations in the air, or it's the collection and analysis of asbestos samples to confirm the presence of asbestos in a material.
A full list of non-licenced asbestos work examples is available on the HSE website and included some of the following:
  • Cleaning up small quantities of loose/ fine debris containing ACM dust (where the work is sporadic and of low intensity, the control limit will not be exceeded and it is short duration work)
  • Drilling of textured decorative coatings for installation of fixtures/fittings
  • Encapsulation and sealing-in work on asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that are in good condition
  • Low risk maintenance work e.g. roof sheeting, tiles, gaskets, thermoplastic and vinyl floor tiles, bitumen roof felt
  • Working on or removing asbestos cement products, (e.g. roof sheeting and rainwater goods) provided the material is carefully handled/removed without breaking up; this includes work with asbestos cement which is weathered but not otherwise substantially damaged
  • Working on small areas of textured decorative coatings using suitable dust-reducing methods, to support other activities such as installation/replacement of smoke alarms and light fittings
  • Maintenance work involving textured decorative coatings provided that this can be done without deterioration of the material, (e.g. if the backing board is carefully cut around to achieve virtually intact removal)
  • Works associated with collecting and analysing samples to identify the presence of asbestos, usually carried out by an asbestos surveyor.
Some types of non-licensed asbestos work will have additional requirements such as the notification of the work to the HSE, medical surveillance and record keeping. This work is known as notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW) and may include.

Removal or Works Involving:

  • Asbestos cement products (e.g. roof sheeting) where the material will be substantially damaged or broken up (e.g. as a result of fire or flood damage).
  • Asbestos cement products (e.g. roof sheeting) where the material will be substantially broken up, creating significant quantities of dust and debris (e.g. ‘dropping’ an asbestos cement roof).
  • Asbestos paper and cardboard products if not firmly bonded in a matrix.
  • Asbestos insulating board as part of a refurbishment project.
  • Asbestos insulation e.g. repairing minor damage to a small section of pipe insulation where the exterior coating has been broken or damaged.
  • large-scale removal of textured decorative coatings using steaming or gelling methods (e.g. beyond that required for maintenance activities such as installation/replacement of smoke alarms and fittings).
Where the work involves higher risks of fibre exposure and is of longer duration this must only be done by a licenced contractor as licensable work, such as work involving:
  • Removing sprayed coatings (limpet asbestos)
  • Removal or other work which may disturb pipe lagging
  • Loose fill insulation
  • Asbestos millboard
  • Cleaning up significant quantities of loose/fine debris containing ACM dust (where the work is not sporadic and of low intensity, the control limit will be exceeded or it is not short duration work)
  • AIB, where the risk assessment indicates that it will not be of short duration
You should never begin any works on ACM without first obtaining specialist advice to confirm whether the work is considered non-licenced asbestos works, notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW) or licensable work.

 

Shaun Lundy is the Technical Director at 4site Consulting.

4site Consulting is a specialist Health & Safety Consultancy serving both the Commercial and Residential Property Management Industry. 4site was established in 2006 in response to the growing demand from Landlords and Property Managers for a common sense and down to earth support service covering all the Health & Safety compliance requirements specific and relevant to the needs of the property management industry.