How do I know if my building is compliant with the latest UK asbestos regulations?

Even in the 2020s, around 5,000 deaths a year in the UK can be attributed to asbestos-related disease, originating from instances of exposure to the substance’s lethal fibres.

Banned in the UK since 1999, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral once regarded as an immensely useful construction material. Today, however, the management of asbestos that remains in UK properties must be carried out in line with strict regulatory requirements.

If you are a current property owner in the UK, you might be unsure what those regulations are, and how they may apply to you. So, below, we have provided guidance on the steps you can take to ensure your compliance with the UK’s present asbestos regulations.

How do I know if my building is compliant with the latest UK asbestos regulations?

What do I need to know about asbestos and its regulations in the UK?

Asbestos was first commercially mined in the 19th century, and became a popular construction material for the bulk of the following century.

Such characteristics of asbestos as its physical strength, fire resistance, and effectiveness as an insulator, led to its incorporation into a hugely wide range of products in the construction sector. Examples of these included asbestos insulating board (AIB), asbestos cement roof tiles, textured decorative coatings, sprayed asbestos coatings, and asbestos textiles and gaskets.

By around the 1970s, however, public awareness was growing of the links between asbestos inhalation or ingestion and a heightened risk of developing potentially fatal asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer.

This culminated in political pressure to impose legal restrictions on the substance, finally leading to a complete ban on all forms of asbestos in the UK by the end of the 20th century.

Since then, various related pieces of legislation have been passed in this country. These have been aimed at ensuring that property owners and other stakeholders adopt suitable measures to help keep people safe from the risks of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) potentially still existent in their buildings.

Today, when people in the UK refer to “the asbestos regulations”, they are typically referring to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, or CAR 2012. These are the UK’s latest, overarching asbestos regulations. They are generally accepted to apply to buildings dating from prior to the year 2000, as it is typically buildings of such an age that often still contain ACMs.

What is the asbestos management duty?

A fundamental element of the current asbestos regulations in the UK is the “duty to manage” asbestos, as set out under Regulation 4 of CAR 2012.

The “duty to manage” asbestos applies to all non-domestic premises, such as factories, warehouses, offices, and shops, as well as the “common parts” of multi-occupancy domestic premises, such as purpose-built flats.

The person who has the “duty to manage” asbestos for a particular site (and there may be multiple such people for a given building) is known as the “dutyholder”.

The dutyholder will be the person or organisation that has primary responsibility for the maintenance or repair of the given non-domestic premises, or the common parts of the given domestic premises. In many cases, the dutyholder will be the owner or landlord of the building.

If you are a dutyholder for a particular building, you will need to take certain actions to ensure compliance with the latest asbestos regulations. These will include:

  • Taking reasonable steps to determine whether the premises contains ACMs – and if so, to ascertain the location, amount, and condition of those materials
  • Presuming all materials on the premises contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence of this not being the case
  • Creating – and keeping up to date – an asbestos management plan
  • Regularly reviewing and monitoring the asbestos management plan
  • Providing information on the materials’ location and condition to anyone who is likely to work on or disturb them.

Is there an asbestos compliance checklist that can be followed?

The following steps will be essential to your efforts to comply with the UK asbestos regulations:

Conducting an asbestos survey

You won’t be able to ensure your building’s compliance with the asbestos regulations, if you don’t even know the exact situation with asbestos in your premises – including in relation to the location, amount, and condition of any ACMs that may be present. Arranging to have an asbestos survey carried out at your site will enable you to find out these details, to the highest level of accuracy.

There are two types of asbestos survey; a management survey, and a refurbishment or demolition survey. The management survey is the “standard” form of asbestos survey – it is meant to help with the management of ACMs during the premises’ normal occupation and use. A refurbishment or demolition survey, meanwhile, is much more destructive, and must be conducted prior to any more disruptive, structural work being undertaken at the site.

Understanding the requirements for an asbestos management plan

The purpose of an asbestos management plan is to set out the procedures and arrangements to manage the risks ACMs may pose on a given site.

There are various elements that an asbestos management plan should include. These encompass – but are not limited to – the identities of the people responsible for managing asbestos at the premises, as well as the asbestos register, the schedule for monitoring the ACMs’ condition, the control arrangements for preventing the disturbance of ACMs, and the emergency procedures to be followed in the event of the ACMs being disturbed.

Making sure any asbestos professionals you hire are suitably qualified

We have written extensively in the past here at Oracle Solutions about the qualifications that asbestos professionals need to have.

Dutyholders, then, should seek out asbestos surveyors who hold either the P402 qualification from the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) or the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Level 3 Award in Asbestos Surveying.

As for if the removal of asbestos is required, presuming the task in question calls for a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the RSPH Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Removal of Hazardous Waste (Construction) – Licensed Asbestos is the most frequently held qualification for this.

Determining the records you need to maintain

The information about ACMs in your building, as gathered through the asbestos surveying process, will need to be included in the live document known as the “asbestos register”.

Your asbestos register will be your record of known or presumed ACMs. You will need to regularly update it over time in accordance with any changes in risk – for example, if ACMs on your site deteriorate in condition.

Complying with employee training and maintenance requirements

As a dutyholder, you also need to tell certain other people about your asbestos management plan. These will encompass site or building managers, employees, contractors, and maintenance workers.

As we have previously written about, the provision of adequate asbestos training to relevant individuals is essential. However, the exact training that you will need to provide to a given employee will depend on the nature of their work, and the level of asbestos risk they are likely to face.

What are the steps I need to take to determine a building’s compliance?

We outlined above some of the tasks that you will need to tick off to help ensure you are on the right side of the current asbestos regulations in the UK.

As we have already explained, one of the most crucial steps for you to take will be the arrangement of an asbestos survey at your property. However, even following on from this, you will need to take further steps to help ensure your building’s compliance. These will include:

  • Interpreting the survey results and identifying necessary actions
  • Implementing the asbestos management plan
  • Regularly reviewing and updating your asbestos records
  • Scheduling re-inspections and maintaining ongoing vigilance.

Should I hire an asbestos professional?

We have written in the past about how to ensure you choose the right asbestos company for your requirements. A reputable asbestos company or contractor will, after all, be highly knowledgeable in the latest UK asbestos regulations, and will know exactly what to do to help ensure your building complies with those regulations.

Whether you are seeking an asbestos surveyor, or perhaps a company that can also carry out asbestos removal, you should bear in mind some of the following factors when comparing your options:

  • Whether the contractor or company you are considering is licensed by the HSE. This will indicate that the health and safety regulator regards the given company or contractor as sufficiently competent and knowledgeable to take on all forms of asbestos remediation work.
  • What insurance the company or contractor holds. HSE licence holders are required to show that they have sufficient and suitable insurance in place for all the asbestos work they undertake.
  • What industry accreditations the company has. Although accreditations aren’t technically essential for asbestos companies to have, if the contractor in question does have them, this can serve as additional evidence of their compliance with safe working practices.
  • What experience and expertise the company has in the industry. Be sure to look online for reviews and testimonials, and to seek out signs of whether the asbestos company under consideration has built up a good reputation for the quality of its services over many years.

What are the common compliance pitfalls to avoid?

There are certain ways in which building owners can sometimes fall out of compliance with the UK asbestos regulations. These include the following:

  • Their asbestos register being outdated or incomplete. Your building’s asbestos register should contain information about all known and presumed ACMs on the premises, as well as the type(s), amount, and condition of those ACMs. You should also update the register at least once a year, or sooner than this if anything changes the risk that an ACM poses.
  • A failure to reassess asbestos risks after building alterations. Regular inspections of your building, including after significant changes have taken place, will help ensure your risk assessment and asbestos management plan always reflect the current asbestos risk situation on the premises.
  • A failure to communicate asbestos risks to employees and visitors. A key element of the regulatory “duty to manage” asbestos is the provision of information about the location and condition of ACMs at the given site to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.

What are the enforcement and penalties for non-compliance?

There can be serious legal and financial consequences for those who fail to comply with the asbestos regulations for their UK building.

If you don’t have an asbestos management plan in place, you could be fined as much as £20,000, or imprisoned for up to six months. A serious breach of the regulations could land you with an unlimited fine and/or a two-year prison sentence.

One only needs to read through our online Learning Centre to see real-life examples of how people and organisations have been penalised for violating asbestos and broader health and safety legislation.

One of them involved this Warrington construction firm, which was hit with a £90,000 fine after its actions during a renovation project that caused individuals to be exposed to asbestos in Stoke-on-Trent. Even the well-known haulage firm, Eddie Stobart Ltd, has fallen foul of asbestos law in the past, a £133,000 fine being imposed due to failings in dealing with the substance at one of its sites.

What are the next steps after once you are asbestos compliant?

Even if your building complies with the UK asbestos regulations right now, the situation could easily change in the future. After all, as ACMs installed during the 20th century continue to age, and the possibility remains of future disturbance to such materials (whether planned or accidental), the health risks that the substance poses on your site may also evolve.

So, you should be putting in place arrangements now to ensure you stay on the right side of the law. These steps should include having new asbestos surveys carried out as and when necessary, as well as updating the asbestos register at least once a year as part of your asbestos management review (or at an earlier point if anything changes the risk a given ACM is likely to present).

Online resources, such as the HSE website and our own Learning Centre, will also be useful as you seek to continually educate yourself on the latest asbestos regulations and associated best practices.

Conclusion: few things are as important as complete and proactive asbestos compliance

Asbestos might no longer be used in UK construction projects, but this does not mean the fibrous silicate mineral is now of merely “historical” interest.

You should never underestimate the importance of taking every action you can to ensure your building stays compliant with the UK asbestos regulations. It will help you to avoid the legal consequences and financial penalties that can arise if you fall out of compliance, and much more importantly, it will help to avoid future tragic instances of asbestos disease.

Are you currently in need of asbestos services that will be instrumental in keeping you on the right side of the law? If so, you are welcome to enquire to our team at Oracle Solutions for a free and fast quote.

Photo of Brendan Coleman

Written by Brendan Coleman

Brendan Coleman, with decades of experience in the asbestos industry, is a dedicated Quality Manager. Certified as a surveyor and analyst, he is adept in operations and quality management with a keen focus on HSE compliance. His expertise is pivotal in maintaining high safety and efficiency standards. Brendan ensures our UKAS accreditation requirements are consistently met and exceeded, upholding stringent standards in asbestos remediation. His commitment to enhancing quality and customer satisfaction makes him an essential advisor in asbestos management.