What are some control measures used in dealing with asbestos

The fact that you are reading this article will indicate you are already aware of just how dangerous asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in a building can be, especially in the event of disturbance being caused to those ACMs and loose fibres being released into the air as a result.

Since the importation and use of asbestos in the UK was banned in 1999, stringent regulations have been put in place to help prevent instances of dangerous exposure to asbestos dust. The inhalation or ingestion of these barely visible fibres can heighten the risk of potentially fatal health conditions later in life, such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer. So, there is both a legal and safety imperative to implement effective asbestos control measures.

There are, in effect, two broad groups of people whose health you will be looking to protect with the control measures you use for asbestos: people who are at risk of coming into contact with asbestos during their daily activities (but whose roles aren’t specifically about working with asbestos), and professionals whose roles and responsibilities are geared towards directly working with asbestos.

So, let’s take a closer look at what control measures you should put in place to help prevent both the aforementioned groups of people from asbestos-related harm – bearing in mind that asbestos-related disease still claims around 5,000 lives a year in the UK.

control measures used in dealing with asbestos

How important is the identification of asbestos-containing materials?

A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was first mined in the middle of the 19th century, and went on to be used heavily in the UK during the bulk of the 20th century.

The construction industry was one of the sectors in which asbestos came to be particularly heavily used, thanks to such characteristics as its relative affordability, attainability, physical strength, and its fire resistance and effectiveness as an insulator. Consequently, asbestos was incorporated into literally thousands of products, including the likes of asbestos cement roofs, insulating board, lagging for pipes and boilers, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and decorative coatings.

We have previously written here at Oracle Solutions about some of the most common asbestos-containing products. Acquiring some knowledge of these may help you to pick out certain products or materials on your site that you suspect could contain asbestos.

However, it is also true that you cannot tell for sure whether a particular material or product contains asbestos, simply by looking at it. This is where it becomes important for a formal asbestos survey to be carried out on your site by a suitably qualified and informed professional.

The need for a professional asbestos survey will be especially urgent for sites where there is a higher risk of asbestos being present, as well as where there could be a significant risk of disturbance being caused to the ACMs by the property’s users. Any UK building that was constructed or renovated prior to the year 2000, for example, is likely to still contain ACMs to this day.

What are the legal and safety standards for asbestos control?

When people in the UK refer to the “asbestos regulations”, they are likely to be particularly referring to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012). This legislation sets out that there is a “duty to manage” asbestos in non-domestic properties in the UK, including managing the risk the now-banned material could pose to human health.

As we have touched on, it is no longer legal to use asbestos in the UK in new construction projects. However, there has never been an automatic legal requirement for all forms of previously installed asbestos to be removed from UK buildings. Consequently, ACMs have often been left in place within properties that were constructed or refurbished before the year 2000.

It is extremely important that the “dutyholder” for a particular public or commercial property under CAR 2012 – and if you are the owner or landlord of the given building, you are very likely to be a dutyholder – to put in place sensible asbestos control measures. In your capacity as a dutyholder, you are required to protect people from the risk of asbestos exposure on your site.

A dutyholder in accordance with CAR 2012 will be expected to carry out various actions. These will include assessing whether there are ACMs present in the buildings for which they are responsible – and if so, where those materials are, as well as their amount, and what condition they are in.

What’s more, the dutyholder is required to assess the risk of anyone being exposed to airborne fibres from any ACMs on their premises. They will also be expected to put together an asbestos management plan to manage the risk, followed by putting that plan into action, and monitoring and reviewing the plan every 12 months (or even more frequently than that, if necessary). All of this will need to happen alongside the dutyholder monitoring the condition of the ACMs.

As you can see, then, there is a lot that a dutyholder under CAR 2012 must do, in order to achieve legal compliance and protect human health. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and guidance text provides further in-depth information on how dutyholders can ensure their compliance with the “duty to manage” asbestos.

What are the control measures for asbestos exposure?

In situations where it is intended that work will be carried out on asbestos materials, or even simply where there is a risk of disturbance to ACMs that could cause dangerous asbestos fibres to be released, it is essential that responsible control measures are put in place.

Control measures such as those detailed below will help guard against the risk of someone on your site being exposed to asbestos:

Asbestos encapsulation

The term “asbestos encapsulation” refers to the process of applying a protective coating or material to ACMs to effectively “seal off” the materials from the rest of the property. It creates a barrier that prevents asbestos fibres from becoming airborne (and therefore posing a risk to the health of someone nearby).

Asbestos encapsulation is frequently chosen as a medium to long-term solution for controlling ACMs and the risks they may pose in a given property. You might choose to encapsulate certain asbestos products on your own site if removing them would be highly disruptive and/or expensive.

Asbestos removal

It is not customary in the UK for any asbestos that is discovered in a given property to be automatically removed. Instead, there is a tendency to leave much asbestos material in place at a given site, so that its condition can be monitored over time.

In certain situations, however – such as when there is a high chance of accidental disturbance being caused to the given materials – the dutyholder may come to the judgement that particular ACMs pose too high a risk to health to be left in place.

The exact legal situation with regard to asbestos removal will depend on such factors as the specific ACMs involved. Certain types of asbestos must only be removed by a specialist asbestos removal contractor who holds a licence from the HSE.

Even in the case of ACMs that can legally be removed by someone who doesn’t hold a licence, it can be an exceedingly wise course of action to place your trust in a licensed professional, who will be able to ensure the task is carried out safely and competently, in line with the asbestos regulations.

Whether the given individual who removes ACMs from your premises is licensed or unlicensed, it is of critical importance to ensure the asbestos material is extremely carefully handled. This will help reduce the scope for disturbance and breakage of the ACMs during the removal process, thereby minimising the likelihood of the release of loose fibres that could imperil the health of anyone close by.

A suitably qualified, experienced, and licensed asbestos removal contractor will be well-informed on how to carefully handle various types of ACMs, so that any safety risks are kept as close to zero as possible. This is, of course, another excellent reason to place your trust in reputable professionals, instead of trying to carry out asbestos removal at your premises on a “DIY” basis.

Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

In cases where someone intends to work on asbestos materials on your premises, it is crucial that they use appropriate PPE to serve as a “last line of defence” against asbestos fibres.

Examples of PPE that the HSE advises the use of include Type 5 disposable overalls, single-use disposable gloves, and boots without laces (on the basis that these will be easier to clean than boots that do have laces).

Those who plan to work on asbestos should also use suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) with a UK assigned protection factor (APF) of 20 or more. For these purposes, a disposable respirator might be used to standards EN 149 or EN 1827, or a half-mask respirator with a P3 filter, or a semi-disposable respirator with a P3 filter.

Controlled wetting

The wetting of ACMs with water before they are handled or removed, can help minimise the scope for any loose asbestos fibres to be released during any of these processes. If asbestos is to be wetted in this way, a gentle mist or low-pressure spray should be used, to avoid the creation of excess moisture that could lead to water runoff or damage the ACMs.

Air filtration and ventilation systems

A particularly dangerous situation that can arise with asbestos, is one in which a significant quantity of asbestos fibres is released within an enclosed space. This can cause a particularly high concentration of asbestos to be breathed in by a worker in such a space, thereby driving up the risk to health that the asbestos exposure could represent.

In spaces where efficient air filtration and ventilation systems are in place, the concentrations of any asbestos fibres that are accidentally released will be quickly diluted. This can have the effect of greatly minimising risks to health.

Air monitoring

Asbestos air monitoring entails extracting air from the environment onto a filter for a certain period of time, in order to collect airborne particles.

The information that you gain from this process can greatly aid your efforts to keep an eye on the risk of asbestos in a given space on your premises. This is why it makes sense to arrange for asbestos air monitoring of a space before, during, and after asbestos has been handled in that part of the building.

What training is available to increase awareness for those at risk?

Asbestos training isn’t only a necessity for people who know they will be directly working on asbestos. That’s because it is also important for anyone whose day-to-day role does not entail working on ACMs, but who is nonetheless liable to disturb ACMs during their work (as well as those who supervise such workers). Indeed, this requirement is set out by regulation 10 of CAR 2012.

To determine the particular training needs that may apply to someone using your premises, you are advised to consult our comprehensive guide to asbestos training.

The most basic type of asbestos training, for example, is asbestos awareness training, which should be given to anyone who undertakes work within or on a building or structure that may contain asbestos. Such training could be essential for such workers as construction and demolition workers, general maintenance staff, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, and roofers.

Higher levels of asbestos training, which can encompass both licensed and non-licensed asbestos work, are likely to be required for people who intend to work directly on asbestos materials on your site.

What about the asbestos waste disposal?

Given the level of danger that asbestos represents, it is of critical importance to ensure you responsibly and carefully dispose of any ACMs that have been removed from your premises.

Once ACMs have been removed from a site and are ready for disposal, they can be considered to be asbestos-containing waste (ACW). Asbestos waste can be defined as any waste that comprises more than 0.1% weight-for-weight (w/w) asbestos, with its definition also encompassing contaminated building materials, PPE, damp rags used for cleaning, and tools for which decontamination is not possible.

In order to dispose of asbestos yourself, you will need to have received training in how to work safely with ACW. It will also be necessary for the waste material to be packed in UN-approved packaging incorporating a CDG hazard label and visible asbestos code information. In addition, only holders of a waste carriers licence will be permitted to actually transport asbestos waste.

Conclusion: comprehensive asbestos control measures can greatly help to ensure safety

All the control measures that we have described in this article play their own crucial roles in preventing asbestos exposure.

By taking your own steps to adhere to the regulations and guidelines around asbestos management, alongside encouraging this compliance in others who may use your premises, and continually educating yourself on asbestos safety, you can help minimise the risks that ACMs on your site could pose to human health.

Would you appreciate advice and assistance with the implementation of the measures we have described in this article, or do you have any other questions about how to manage asbestos on a site for which you are responsible? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact the Oracle Solutions team today, whether by email or by calling our expert team.

What are some control measures used in dealing with asbestos? 1

Written by Callum McDonald

Callum McDonald is an expert in asbestos quality management, ensuring rigorous adherence to regulations and high-quality standards in removal projects. His focus on enhancing quality and client satisfaction makes him a crucial asset in safety and compliance within the field. Callum's expertise in technical support and oversight of licensed works underscores his commitment to excellence in asbestos management, providing invaluable guidance to clients in this specialised area.