What is the difference between licensed and non-licensed asbestos removal

It is remarkable in many ways to think that, as recently as 1999, the fibrous silicate mineral known as asbestos was still legal to use in the UK.

Late that year, a complete ban on the importation and use of all forms of asbestos was finally imposed. This brought to an end the notorious “asbestos century” that had begun with the first commercial mining of the naturally occurring material in the mid-19th century.

Fast-forward to the 2020s, and not only is asbestos still banned for use in the UK, but it is also subject to stringent rules and regulation. Such requirements apply in cases where work may be performed on asbestos in buildings, dating from before the year 2000, where it continues to be present.

 licensed and non-licensed asbestos removal

The key plank of today’s asbestos legislation in the UK is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, also known as CAR 2012. These regulations help to ensure that “dutyholders” – in other words, those with responsibility for maintaining and repairing non-domestic buildings – make responsible decisions on the management of any asbestos that may still exist within such premises.

In some circumstances, asbestos may be left in a building and simply managed in place over time. In others, however, the dutyholder might decide to remove asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from their premises, in order to minimise the risk this now-notorious carcinogen could pose to anyone who is liable to encounter it. After all, disease related to the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos still causes around 5,000 deaths a year in the UK.

If you are such a dutyholder, however, and you do decide to have ACMs removed from premises for which you are responsible, you might have heard that there are two categories of asbestos removal: licensed and non-licensed.

What, then, are the distinctions between these two types of asbestos removal, and what are the other key details about them that dutyholders need to know?

Understanding asbestos and its hazards

More than a generation might have now passed since the UK Government imposed its final ban on all forms of asbestos in 1999 – the especially hazardous amphibole (blue and brown) asbestos having been outlawed in 1985 – but the health risks of asbestos sadly still linger today.

This is because, despite the aforementioned bans, there is nothing in current UK law that demands asbestos is removed from any and all buildings in which it is present. So, if a given UK building was constructed or renovated prior to the year 2000, there is a very strong likelihood that asbestos will still be contained somewhere inside.

During its many decades of extensive use, asbestos was incorporated into many products that were routinely used in construction, such as asbestos insulating board, roofing felt, flooring tiles, and lagging.

In the event, however, of someone disturbing such asbestos materials, fibres could be released, and inhaled or swallowed by someone nearby. This could elevate the given person’s risk of developing a potentially fatal asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, many years or even decades into the future.

So, you can hopefully begin to understand why there is such a need for today’s tightly regulated asbestos management and removal practices. The current asbestos licensing regime helps to ensure the necessary high level of regulatory control, complementing broader UK health and safety law.

Licensed asbestos removal

So, to reiterate what we stated above, when it comes to work with asbestos (which may or may not involve removal of the material), there are two broad types: licensed, and non-licensed.

  • Non-licensed asbestos removal work is the kind where a licence isn’t necessary in order to carry out the work, due to the risks being judged to be lower.
  • Licensed asbestos removal work, on the other hand, is work that must be performed by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE)-licensed contractor, because of the significant hazard, risk, or public concern that such work is judged to present.

The HSE states that work with asbestos is licensable when:

  • Worker exposure to asbestos is not sporadic and of low intensity; or
  • The risk assessment is unable to clearly demonstrate that the control limit will not be exceeded, i.e. 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/mc3), averaged over a period of four hours; or
  • The work takes place on asbestos coating; or
  • The work is to be carried out on asbestos insulation or asbestos insulating board, where the risk assessment demonstrates that the work will not be short in duration.

On the HSE website, various examples of licensable work are cited. Included among these are the removal of sprayed coatings (limpet asbestos), and removal or other work that may cause disturbance to pipe lagging. Any work involving loose fill insulation is also cited as an example of licensable work.

However, the health and safety regulator does also state that any decision on whether a given work activity is licensable or non-licensable, will need to be based on the specific risk it poses.

Non-licensed asbestos removal

As we referenced above, if given asbestos work is non-licensable, this means that contractors do not need to hold a licence from the HSE in order to carry out the work. This is due to the lower risks that such work is judged to present.

However, the HSE is quite specific about what conditions must apply, in order for certain work with asbestos to qualify as non-licensed. To be exempt from licensing requirements, the work must be:

  • Sporadic and of low intensity, with the concentration of asbestos in the air not exceeding 0.6 f/cm3 measured over 10 minutes
  • Carried out in such a manner that workers’ exposure to asbestos will not exceed the legal control limit of 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3), averaged over a period of four hours

In addition, presuming that the work in question is specifically asbestos removal, the ACMs must be in reasonable condition, and the person carrying out the work should not be deliberately trying to break up the ACMs.

Furthermore, the asbestos fibres must be firmly contained within a matrix, as is the case when asbestos is coated, covered, or contained within another material, such as paint, plastic, or cement.

Criteria for licensed asbestos removal

So, if the ultimate judgement on whether given asbestos removal work is licensable or non-licensable will depend on the level of risk involved, what steps will need to be made in order to reach that judgement?

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but one thing that will certainly be required, will be a thorough risk assessment. You will need to arrange for this before any work is carried out on the given asbestos.

When you are assessing the risk that the asbestos presents for removal, and therefore whether the work will be licensable or non-licensable, you will need to take account of certain factors. These will include:

  • Whether the given types of ACMs are higher-risk or lower-risk Certain types of ACMs, such as cement sheets and floor tiles, will come under the banner of non-licensable work if they have been kept in good condition.In the case of some other types of ACMs, however, the process of working on or removing them may cause them to become more “friable” (and we will elaborate on that term in a moment). This would necessitate the appropriate regulatory body being informed if such work is to be carried out, with this kind of work being known as “notifiable non-licensed removal”.
  • The friability of the asbestos to be removed The term “friability” refers to how susceptible certain ACMs are to breaking down into smaller pieces. Asbestos materials that are more friable, then – as is often the case for sprayed asbestos coatings, for instance – will be likelier to release dangerous asbestos fibres, which could therefore be more easily breathed in or swallowed by someone nearby.
  • Relatively complex removal scenarios There are various circumstances in which the removal of asbestos from a given building may require more specialised knowledge and skills – the level of knowledge and skills that a licensed asbestos removal contractor is likely to possess.

Relatively complicated removal scenarios – for example, where removal of the given ACMs might affect the structural integrity of the building in which they are installed – are also ones in which the dangerous release of asbestos fibres could much more easily occur.

Criteria for non-licensed asbestos removal

If you have read the above information on the circumstances in which asbestos removal work might be licensable, you will have hopefully already gained a decent idea of scenarios where removing asbestos may not require a licence.

These are likely to include the following:

  • Where non-friable asbestos is being removed with minimal risk of fibre release
  • Where the quantities of ACMs being removed will be limited
  • Where the removal procedures involved will be very simple

The HSE has cited as an example of non-licensable asbestos removal work, the removal of asbestos cement products such as roof sheeting and rainwater goods, provided that the material is carefully handled and removed without breaking up. This would include work on asbestos cement that is weathered but has not otherwise sustained substantial damage.

Another example of non-licensable asbestos removal work that the HSE has cited, is the removal of small areas of textured decorative coatings, using suitable dust-reducing methods, to support other activities such as the installation of light fittings and smoke alarms.

Licensing and training requirements

The CAR 2012 legislation makes clear that an employee whose job entails working with asbestos is required to have the appropriate training.

So, even if the asbestos removal work that you are looking to have carried out on your premises will be non-licensable, this does not mean that training ceases to be a consideration.

Furthermore, as we set out in our comprehensive guide to asbestos training, mere asbestos awareness training will not be enough for someone carrying out non-licensable asbestos removal work; they will also need to have undergone dedicated non-licensed asbestos training.

As for if someone will be undertaking licensable asbestos work, in order to do this, they will require asbestos licensed training (also known as category C, or Cat C asbestos training). As you might imagine, this training will need to be comprehensive, including in relation to the specialised equipment and protective gear that must be used for such work.

More detailed information on the information, instruction, and training that someone will require in order to undertake licensable work, can be found in the HSE’s HSG247 Asbestos: The licensed contractors’ guide document.

The process of asbestos removal

Presuming you have determined that the asbestos removal work you wish to undertake will be licensable rather than non-licensable, the step-by-step process for actually carrying out the work will be broadly as follows:

  • A detailed risk assessment
  • Thorough preparation of the asbestos removal area
  • Implementation of strict containment measures
  • Safe removal techniques
  • Strictly followed procedures for the proper disposal of asbestos waste

If, on the other hand, the asbestos removal work that you intend to carry out will not require a HSE licence, the step-by-step process will typically be simpler. However, you can still expect it to involve:

  • A simple risk assessment
  • The use of basic protective equipment
  • Careful handling and removal methods
  • Proper waste disposal protocols

As the above should make clear, the importance of safe and responsible asbestos removal procedures will be no lower for non-licensed work than it is for licensed work. You will still need to be extremely vigilant in adopting measures to guard against the risk of asbestos fibres being released, and potentially inhaled or ingested, by anyone else in or near the premises.

Reporting and documentation

Whether or not the given asbestos removal work to be done at your premises will be licensable or non-licensable, you must also be alert to the importance of accurate reporting and documentation for such specialised and sensitive work.

Regulation 4 of the aforementioned CAR 2012 sets out a “duty to manage” asbestos for those who manage non-domestic premises (hence our references to “dutyholders” throughout this article).

As part of that duty, the legislation sets out that you will need to make, and keep up to date, a record of the location and condition of the ACMs – or materials presumed to contain asbestos – on your site. You will also be expected to put together a plan that outlines, in detail, what will be done to manage the risks that the asbestos materials present.

Legal consequences of non-compliance

As a dutyholder contemplating the removal of asbestos from premises for which you are responsible, it is of the utmost importance to ensure you only carry out such removal work in accordance with the law.

As we set out above, the UK today has stringent regulations in place for how asbestos is to be managed and/or removed from sites where it is present. This reflects the very serious harm that the material can cause to human health and the environment.

In the past, company directors have been imprisoned for not appointing licensed professionals to undertake asbestos removal tasks on sites for which they are responsible. So, you must be alert to the severe repercussions that can arise if you fail to adhere to the licensing requirements, including in relation to whatever contractor you may hire to carry out this work.

Conclusion: you must take the very greatest care to ensure compliance when removing asbestos

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide will have helped inform you on the very real differences between licensed and non-licensed asbestos removal tasks.

Although it is essentially the level of risk that a given removal process poses that will dictate whether it is licensable or non-licensable, there are various specific factors to consider. These encompass – but are not limited to – the specific types of ACMs involved, the friability of the asbestos to be removed, and the training your chosen asbestos removal contractor might have received.

If you need further advice and information in relation to asbestos management and/or removal, and the steps that you must take to help ensure both legal compliance and safety, please feel free to enquire to the Oracle Solutions team today.

Mark Carter

Written by Mark Carter

Mark Carter is a renowned expert in asbestos management, offering clients vital guidance on compliance and safety. His expertise is invaluable for navigating asbestos regulations, ensuring both safety and legal adherence. Mark's role is central in providing effective asbestos-related solutions, helping clients achieve their business objectives with an emphasis on regulatory compliance and safety in asbestos management.