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Within these walls

Socotec, a provider of testing, inspection and compliance services, advises on managing asbestos in public sector buildings

With more than 500,000 public buildings still estimated to contain asbestos today, managaging asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) remains a big responsibility for FMs.

Increasingly, awareness campaigns are being championed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) around the presence and management of asbestos. The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has also urged all public sector employees to be more aware of asbestos in public buildings.

Buildings constructed before 2000 are highly likely to contain asbestos, including ageing public buildings like hospitals, schools, libraries, museums and town halls.

The legacy problem of asbestos still needs to be addressed. Awareness and training is needed to combat the risk of exposure and ensure compliance and safety for those using and working in facilities, buildings and areas that still contain ACMs.

Due to its versatility and properties, asbestos is found in varying forms, including:

» Asbestos lagging used as thermal insulation on pipes and boilers

» Sprayed asbestos used for thermal insulation, fire protection or noise insulation

» Asbestos-insulating board (AIB) used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning, ducts and some ceiling tiles

» Floor tiles

» Cement roofing and guttering

» Textured coatings

In addition to building structures, asbestos can be found in boiler rooms, central heating systems, pipe lagging, portable heaters, electrical switch insulators and radiator casings. Because of its widespread use, thousands of public buildings are likely homes to what UKATA have termed the ‘ticking time-bomb’.

A National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey in March 2017, found that 50 per cent of respondents had not been told whether their school is one of the 86 per cent which contain asbestos.

If you own, occupy or manage premises which may contain asbestos, you have a legal duty to manage the risk under regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Known as the ‘duty to manage’, the legislation applies to all non-domestic buildings and includes commercial, public and industrial premises, which should take the following steps to manage asbestos:

» Undertake an inspection and maintain a register of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in the building

» Assess the risks associated with ACMs on the premises

» Devise a plan for managing asbestos in the building

» Make sure staff, visitors and contractors know the risks and precautions they need to take

» Keep the management of asbestos in the building under review

Within the guidance, duty holders are defined as the people responsible for maintenance and repair and/or access to the building. Understanding that responsibility is fundamental to effective asbestos control; the duty holder of the building must locate and assess the risk posed by asbestos-containing materials, as well as develop a risk management plan.

Where any duty holder is unsure how to approach their duty to manage, an asbestos consultancy can help to ensure full compliance with the regulations and protect people’s safety. Additionally, asbestos training for individual employees can equip them with the skills and knowledge to raise awareness and handle and manage asbestos.

The presence of asbestos in hospitals (and other public buildings) is not surprising given the age of so much of the public estate, and is not in itself a significant cause for concern. But greater emphasis should be given to the control measures in place and how the materials are managed, and there should be a record of the location of ACMs.

With hospital trusts paying out more than £16.4 million in compensation as a result of poorly managed asbestos within their buildings, good management of these materials is an effective way to save costs as well as meet legal requirements and safeguard public health.

There is a misconception that the presence of asbestos always requires removal – but this is not necessarily the case. If sealed, undisturbed and in good condition, the asbestos is not considered a health hazard as the fibres will remain encapsulated. Removal is an option for items in bad condition or liable to damage or degradation. Refurbishment or maintenance works can disturb asbestos, which is why it’s essential to be aware of the location of ACMs.

Hospitals struggle to justify the proactive removal of asbestos-containing materials if they can be safely managed in situ with the correct processes and procedures.

FMs or subcontractors undertaking small repair jobs within a school or hospital must have access to asbestos records and appropriate role-responsibility training. A management survey is non-destructive, and should be carried out to provide the necessary information for the property’s asbestos register. All accessible surface materials will be assessed. If accessible, this could also include areas such as ceiling voids and risers, which could be subject to maintenance activity.

Before any works are undertaken for demolition, refurbishment or maintenance purposes that will disturb the fabric of the building, a refurbishment or demolition survey should be carried out.

Both surveys involve intrusive inspection of normally inaccessible areas, with the aim of locating ‘hidden’ ACMs that could be disturbed by the planned project. For example, if there are refurbishment plans or installation works for a new service, fire alarm or CCTV (that will disturb the building’s structure), then an asbestos refurbishment survey is required.

Asbestos surveys in public sector buildings may pose logistical challenges, but not fully understanding the location of asbestos can lead to accidental exposure to asbestos fibres, posing a risk to health and the possibility of hefty fines. Appointing a trained specialist for surveying can support the duty holder of any public building in meeting this requirement.

About Sarah OBeirne


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