GTG G21 Asbestos

|< Examiner home

<<Back to health & safety home

1. Introduction

The potentially devastating effects of the inhalation of asbestos fibres have led to a stringent regulatory regime being set up. 

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 covers the prohibition of new use of asbestos, controlling asbestos at work, and asbestos licensing.  Although new use is banned, managing asbestos continues to be a major safety management issue as much is still to be found in buildings, where its use peaked in the 1960s and 70s, and in general engineering applications.

Use in buildings includes as pipe lagging, insulating boards, floor tiles, decorative ceiling coatings, etc, and in more general engineering in such as gaskets, rope seals, electrical equipment, etc.  It is not always obvious that asbestos is present.

2. Nature of the Hazards

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material.  Its fibres can become lodged in the lungs and resist the body's normal mechanisms for removing them.  Lung cancers can result.  All types of asbestos are carcinogenic.  There can be periods of 15 to 60 years following exposure before symptoms appear.

The risks arise from airborne fibres, so if asbestos containing materials are in good condition they can be left in place undisturbed, but subject to periodic monitoring.

Workers most likely to disturb asbestos whilst working on buildings are those carrying out maintenance and repairs including construction and demolition contractors, roofers, electricians, painters and decorators, joiners, plumbers, H&V fitters, gas fitters, surveyors etc, and persons carrying out service installation work.

3. Duties and Responsibilities

As well as the general responsibilities on employers, there are particular responsibilities for those who manage buildings.  You will be considered a duty-holder if:

- You own the building

- You are responsible through a contract or tenancy

- You have control of the building (even without a formal contract or agreement)

- In a multi occupancy building where you have taken responsibility for maintenance and repairs of the whole building

The regulations require employers to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres.  Where this is not reasonably practicable then reduce exposure to as low as reasonably practicable (other than by using RPE).  The spread of asbestos must be prevented.

Exposure limits are set based on concentrations of airborne fibres averaged over both four hour and ten minute (peak) periods.

4. Risk Assessment

Employers and duty holders need to carry out a risk assessment.  If there is any doubt as to the presence of asbestos then its presence must be assumed.  The risk of any fibres becoming released must then be considered.

Management Plans must be prepared which include the measures for managing the risks including monitoring, maintenance or removal, and providing information to anyone likely to disturb the asbestos (including the emergency services).  As with all health and safety plans it must be regularly reviewed.

5. Risk Control

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is an important part of risk control but must not be seen as the only measure to prevent exposure.  Work methods for controlling release of fibres for non-licensed work can be found for a range of situations on the HSE's Asbestos Essential website (see section 6). 

Most asbestos removal work must be undertaken by a licensed contractor.  Work is only exempt from licensing if:

- Exposure is sporadic and of low intensity, not exceeding the stated exposure limits, and;

- The work is intermittent (meaning less than one hour in seven days for an individual, and for all workers exposed does not exceed a total of two hours)

- Removal of materials containing fibres where they are firmly linked in a matrix

- The work involves encapsulating or sealing asbestos containing materials in good condition, or;

- The work consists solely of air monitoring and control, and sampling and analysis to determine the presence of asbestos

Anyone working on asbestos insulations, coating, or insulation board needs a licence issued by the HSE unless one of the exemptions apply.

If the work is licensable, then you must also:

- Notify the relevant enforcing authority

- Designate the work area (refer to the regulations for more detail)

- Prepare asbestos emergency procedures

- Put employees under medical surveillance (at the employer's expense)

Clearance certificates for re-occupation of buildings must be issued by a body accredited to do so by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS)

Information, instruction and training must be provided as appropriate to include such as the risk assessment findings, asbestos risks, required precautions, and control limits and action levels. 

Areas where asbestos limits are likely to be exceeded are termed Designated Areas.

Emergency Planning The extent of emergency planning required will depend on the assessed risk.  Emergency services will need to be informed of the presence of suspected asbestos containing materials.

6. Further Information

The Management of Asbestos in Non-domestic Premises.  Approved Code of Practice L127. HSE

Approved Code of Practice: Work with Materials containing Asbestos. L143. HSE

Asbestos: The Licensed Contractors Guide. HSG247. HSE

Asbestos:  The analysts guide for sampling, analysis, and clearance procedures. HSG248. HSE

Asbestos Essentials.  HSG210. HSE

In addition to the above, detailed guides are available from the HSE which include:

- Asbestos cement sheet

- Textural coatings

- Asbestos insulating board

- Floor tiles and mastic

- Fibre gaskets and rope seals

- Electrical components

- Fillers, putties, and fixings

Additionally, 'Equipment and Method' Sheets (EM series) are available on:

- Enclosures

- Use of vacuum cleaners

- Wetting asbestos


- Clearing minor areas of contamination

- Personal contamination

- Disposal

MDHS 100 Surveying, sampling and assessment of asbestos-containing materials [particularly useful for determining materials which may contain asbestos]

HSE Asbestos website:

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 12 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AD;

This information is copyright of the BMF July 2009 and must not be re-published