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Managing asbestos at your home or in the work place

Whether you are looking at a domestic dwelling or a work building, knowing for certain if asbestos is present is not something that everyone can be confident of getting right.

Even experienced asbestos consultants can sometimes mistake a material that is safe for asbestos and vice versa. This is because asbestos has been used as an ingredient in so many building materials over the years and making a definitive identification just isn’t always possible by just looking. Having said that, any asbestos consultant or surveyor worth their salt will err on the side of caution and take samples for laboratory analysis if they suspect asbestos could be present.

Because it is not always possible to tell whether a material contains asbestos just by looking at it. Close examination of a sample using specialised microscopic procedures is the only way to conclusively determine whether the sampled material contains asbestos. This work is carried out by an accredited laboratory who will work closely with the asbestos surveyor.

Managing asbestos: Who do you call?

It is possible to employ a company that will include surveyors, laboratory testing, remediation and removal of asbestos. More commonly, most will employ a surveyor who will collaborate with other companies that take care of the other functions with regard to asbestos management or removal.

If you require an asbestos survey, you will need to contact a competent asbestos surveyor. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service, known as UKAS accredits organisations they deem capable of conducting these surveys.

What is the process for managing asbestos?

When you have engaged the services of a professional asbestos consultant or surveyor, they will conduct a survey of the property in the following way:

Locate and record any suspected asbestos

An experienced asbestos surveyor will have a pretty good idea as to where asbestos containing materials are likely to be located be in your home or work place. Should the surveyor be in any doubt, they will take samples of the material in question and send the samples off to an accredited asbestos testing laboratory. As a rule of thumb, they will automatically assume asbestos is present, particularly in older properties and take the necessary precautions.

Checking that any asbestos is in a good condition

It may come as a surprise to many that even if asbestos is identified, it is not always removed. As long as the asbestos in question is in a good state of repair and also if located away from the rigours of regular habitation activity, it is generally safe to leave it in situ. This does not just depend on the condition, other factors must be considered too. For example, if the discovered asbestos is in a good condition, is it encapsulated with a suitable coating of paint or other surface finishes, or even fully enclosed, boxed or capped in a sound protective structure.

Keeping up to date records of asbestos

Just because asbestos found may be safe and well encapsulated doesn’t mean it can be forgotten about. Any discovered asbestos must be recorded and undergo a risk analysis to determine whether it is safe to be managed as above, or removed accordingly. The inspection of any asbestos left in place must be conducted on a regular basis to ensure the condition remains good. The passage of time and everyday wear and tear on any building can damage coatings or enclosures, thus making the asbestos a danger to those living or working in the viscinity.

If you are renting out your dwelling you will have certain responsibilities as a landlord and the same applies to commercial buildings. You will have a duty of care to maintain any discovered asbestos and keep an up to date asbestos register, so that contractors can discover where any asbestos is located prior to them conducting any work such as drilling, or any other activity that could potentially disturb the asbestos.

The last thing you want is a contractor drilling, sanding, sawing or demolishing any structure that contains asbestos containing materials. The danger to you and the contractor are just too great. A clear, concise asbestos register goes a long way to resolving any issues before they can arise.

A good way to keep records of asbestos found, its condition and the plan for its management is to have software such as Survey Jem™. Clearly you could keep a hard paper asbestos register, but these take up space, can easily get lost and are time consuming and expensive to update. An online database will keep your information easily accessible and available for updates whenever required.

When you consider what information is stored in an effective management plan or asbestos survey, it makes sense to have an easily accessible and readily updated asbestos register for inspection by the relevant parties such as contractors, the fire service and residents.

A good asbestos register will have a detailed description of locations where asbestos is present or suspected to be present, what is located there and where it is located within that area, photographs, floor plans, laboratory certificates and risk analysis information. A detailed account of asbestos and how it is being managed effectively is the best way to minimise the risk to health from this potentially deadly mineral.

What about refurbishment or demolition works?

Should you be planning any major refurbishment of the property or even demolition work, you will need to be very careful to prevent any disturbance of asbestos that could release asbestos fibres into the air. Should any structure contain asbestos, you will be putting yourself and others in danger if you conduct any work that has the potential to disturb asbestos containing materials.

Even outdoor buildings such as garages, sheds or old coal bunkers may contain substantial amounts of asbestos containing materials and any drilling, sanding, sawing or demolishing will release asbestos fibres into the air.

Take professional advice

A professional asbestos consultant will be able to talk you through the process of managing or removing asbestos discovered on your property. They will also be in a position to conduct reinspections in the future to ensure that the asbestos remains in a safe condition.

The removal of damaged asbestos

When asbestos containing materials have been damaged, the potential for the release of asbestos fibres increases. You may hear asbestos referred to as ’friable’. Friable asbestos refers to any asbestos containing material that is at least one percent asbestos by weight or volume and can be crumbled or powdered by the strength of a human hand. This also refers to spray on materials that include asbestos as a component, such as fire retardants and thermal insulation.

This friable asbestos should only be removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. Any replacement of damaged or dismantled asbestos cement materials must be with asbestos free alternative products. Only use a professional licensed asbestos removal company to do any removal work, never attempt removal yourself.

By engaging a licensed asbestos removal company to remove any asbestos, you will remain safe, within the law and be confident that the waste asbestos will be disposed of in a safe manner, not fly tipped down a country lane or in the local landfill site.

Essentially, asbestos will be present in older buildings for many years to come, but as long as the affected properties are subject to a regular and thorough asbestos reinspection and have a sound asbestos management plan in place, we can minimise the danger presented by this natural mineral.

Eventually, when all the buildings that contain asbestos have been demolished and replaced with new buildings, asbestos and its management will be a part of everyday life.

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