What Are The Current Asbestos Regulations? Understanding the HSG227 Guideance

The use of asbestos may have been banned in the UK since 1999, but this does not prevent the now-notorious material’s dangers still being present in the 2020s. This, in turn, necessitates asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) being managed safely and responsibly, wherever they may still exist on a given site.

Asbestos was first commercially mined in the mid-19th century. Admired for qualities including its relative availability, affordability, physical strength, and fire resistance, asbestos went on to be incorporated into all manner of products in the construction industry. These encompassed the likes of asbestos cement products, asbestos insulating board (AIB), floor coverings, textured decorative coatings, and loose asbestos cavity insulation.

HSG227 Guidance cover image

As the decades wore on, however, it became increasingly widely known that the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos could bring about a heightened risk of certain serious health conditions in those exposed. Such diseases included the likes of mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis. Even in the 2020s, approximately 5,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributed to diseases arising from asbestos exposure.

Fast-forward to today, and ACMs – such as those mentioned above – continue to exist in all manner of UK properties constructed or renovated prior to the 1999 asbestos ban. Strict regulations now exist stipulating how asbestos is to be managed in such premises – but if you are legally responsible for such a building and the management of asbestos within it, where can you look for advice and guidance on this process?

One publication that you are likely to find invaluable, is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s document under the HSG227 series code, entitled A comprehensive guide to Managing Asbestos in premises. This book is aimed at people – such as building owners and tenants – who have a “duty to manage” potential asbestos-related risks in their properties, as well as anyone else who has legal responsibilities for workplaces.

With this document containing vital information and guidance in relation to the UK’s current asbestos law, where asbestos can be present in buildings, and what steps a dutyholder can take to put together an asbestos management plan, HSG227 greatly helps responsible individuals and organisations to maintain workplace safety and legal compliance.

What is the HSG227 guide?

The HSG227 publication, A comprehensive guide to Managing Asbestos in premises, was published in its first – and still-current – edition in 2002, and reprinted in 2004.

There have been some changes in the law in relation to the management of asbestos in the UK since HSG227 was published – the country’s overarching asbestos legislation, for example, is now the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, or CAR 2012. However, HSG227 continues to be highly relevant and useful to those who have a “duty to manage” asbestos in their premises (this legal duty is explained in detail under Regulation 4 of CAR 2012).

HSG227 sets out extensive guidance for dutyholders, supported by photographs, diagrams, cross-sections, tabled data, and case studies. The document begins with a seven-point flow chart to guide the user through the process of managing ACMs in their property.

Who is HSG227 aimed at?

The guidance contained within the HSG227 book is aimed principally at those who have a “duty to manage” the risks from ACMs in premises for which they are responsible. It mainly applies, then, to those who have maintenance and repair responsibilities for the given premises, including by virtue of a contract or tenancy. In cases where no contract or tenancy exists, this duty typically falls to whoever is in control of the premises.

There is a wide range of stakeholders involved in the management of asbestos in UK properties, and it is vital for a coordinated approach to be achieved among the stakeholders for a given premises.

For this reason, HSG227 also makes relevant reading for people working in such roles as facility managers, safety officers, and asbestos analysts.

What are the key knowledge areas?

If you are a dutyholder for a given premises as set out by CAR 2012, there are various things that you will need to know to help ensure the responsible management of asbestos at your site.

Those essential areas of knowledge include the different types of asbestos and asbestos-containing products that exist, as well as the potential health implications of breathing or in swallowing asbestos fibres. This can happen, for example, in the event of ACMs being disturbed and loose fibres being consequently released into the air.

In your capacity as a dutyholder, it is also of critical importance that you possess a comprehensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for managing asbestos.

With the information and guidance that HSG227 provides on such subjects as the legal requirements for asbestos management in the UK, what asbestos is, what health effects asbestos exposure can have, and what steps can be taken to manage asbestos on a particular site, this HSE book will greatly help you develop your asbestos knowledge.  

What does HSG227 say about the identification and assessment of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs)?

You will not, of course, be able to take informed steps to manage any ACMs in buildings for which you are responsible, until you know what ACMs are present in the property, as well as vital associated details, such as the materials’ location, amount, and condition.

Sure enough, on the aforementioned flow chart in the HSG227 document, the first step is to “confirm what you already know about the ACMs on your premises, and review how you are currently managing them”.

Your first step in this process should be to consider whether there are likely to be ACMs on your premises. You might have records showing that an asbestos survey was previously carried out, as well as that certain ACMs were removed from the property in the past. In some cases – for example, if the building for which you are responsible was constructed after the year 2000 – the premises might have never contained asbestos.

If you need to undertake a fresh asbestos survey at your property to determine the status of ACMs in the building, Appendix 1 of HSG227 – on the planning of surveys – will provide you with useful details on how to accomplish this. It sets out information on what type(s) of survey to carry out, as well as information gathering, and how to decide on the appropriate reporting format and medium.

Appendix 2 of the publication then explores the survey report, material assessment, and algorithm. The final survey report should set out various descriptors for the confirmed or suspected ACMs that are discovered through the surveying process, including where they are located, their extent, the product type, the level of identification (presumed, strongly presumed, or identified), accessibility/vulnerability, and the amount of damage or deterioration.

HSG227 states that if an inspection or survey has been carried out for a particular property, it will be necessary to risk assess each of the ACMs, or presumed ACMs, identified. These risk assessments will enable the dutyholder to decide on what action to take in relation to given ACMs, and to determine what needs to be tackled first.

The risk assessments are carried out in two stages. Those are the material assessment (Appendix 2), which assesses the condition of the material and the likelihood of the material being disturbed or releasing fibres, and the priority assessment (Appendix 3). The second of those stages takes into account such factors as maintenance activities, the likelihood of disturbance, human exposure potential, and the activities of occupants or visitors to the building.

What guidance does HSG227 give about asbestos management plans?

Naturally, in order to effectively and safely manage asbestos at any premises for which you are responsible, you will need to have a proper strategy in place for doing so.

Sure enough, a major part of the HSG227 document is concerned with developing an asbestos management strategy. This section of the book sets out three “immediate action” steps for putting together an asbestos management strategy:

  • Step 1: Confirm what you already know about the ACMs on your premises, and review how you are currently managing them
  • Step 2: Prevent work on premises that may disturb the fabric of the building until measures to control the risk have been implemented
  • Step 3: Carry out an initial inspection for damage and disturbance of materials and take immediate action to control these

These steps are followed in the guide by four “continuing actions”:

  • Step 4: Develop a strategy for compliance
  • Step 5: Carry out a risk assessment of your ACMs to set priorities for management
  • Step 6: Develop a long-term management plan
  • Step 7: Monitor and review the management plan

In-depth information is provided in this part of the HSG227 document on how an effective asbestos management plan can be developed and implemented.

We mentioned above, for example, the importance of carrying out risk assessments for each ACM. HSG227 states that the results from these risk assessments will need to be used in the development of the management plan, which should be clear and unambiguous.

The management plan should also outline the aims of the plan, together with what is going to be done, and when and how it will be done. Below, we have listed some of the types of information that the HSG227 book says should be included in a management plan:

  • Details of how the location and condition of known or presumed ACMs is recorded
  • Priority assessments, including priority assessment scores if algorithms have been used
  • A table of priority for action
  • Decisions about management options, including the rationale
  • A timetable for action
  • Monitoring arrangements
  • Employees and their responsibilities
  • Training arrangements for employees and contractors.

A complete rundown of the contents that HSG227 indicates should be incorporated into an asbestos management plan, are set out in paragraph 81, page 29 of the document.

What health and safety considerations are there?

The task of ensuring the greatest possible health and safety should always be one of the uppermost priorities of dutyholders and other key stakeholders in the asbestos management process, such as asbestos surveyors and analysts.

By paying close attention to and implementing the various measures set out in the HSG227 guide and associated documents, you can help minimise the scope for unanticipated contamination of areas of your property that might not have previously been contaminated.

In the process, you will also be helping to reduce the likelihood of any uncontrolled release of asbestos fibres, as can be responsible for so many instances of asbestos ingestion or inhalation for people in close proximity to this substance.

How important is it that I adhere to HSG227 guidelines?

The status of HSG227 as a guidance document means it is not compulsory to follow all the advice it contains. If you are reading this as a dutyholder for a given premises, it is worth bearing in mind that you are free to take other courses of action, as long as you continue to comply with all the relevant legislation such as CAR 2012.

However, HSG227 being a HSE publication means that if you do follow its guidance closely – alongside the guidelines contained within the regulator’s other documents on asbestos – you can be confident you will be doing everything possible to achieve legal compliance.

Indeed, it is worth bearing in mind that health and safety inspectors may refer to the HSE’s own guidance as illustrating good practice, which gives you even more reason to follow it.

Serious breaches of asbestos regulations in the UK put any dutyholders found guilty of wrongdoing at risk of being hit with an unlimited fine, and/or a two-year prison sentence. This underlines just how important it is to ensure consistent compliance.

Conclusion: HSG227 can be invaluable to dutyholders seeking to manage asbestos safely and responsibly  

With the advice, guidance, and information that the HSE’s HSG227 book provides on the management of asbestos in premises, this publication serves as an important resource for all manner of dutyholders that are anxious to stay on the right side of the UK’s strict asbestos rules, at the same time as keeping users of their buildings safe.

To learn more about our asbestos services at Oracle Solutions, and to receive a free quote, please don’t hesitate to send our team an email today, or to give us a call today.

What are the current asbestos regulations? HSG227: A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Asbestos in Premises 1

Written by Jess Scott

Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.