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Considering Refurbishing? Don’t Forget Asbestos

buildingcropIf you are thinking of refurbishing any of your properties then you need to make sure you have fulfilled your legal asbestos responsibilities before you start any work at the property.

If your building contains or is likely to contain asbestos you will need to undertake a refurbishment and demolition survey before you allow contractors to start any work which may damage the fabric of the building such as removing walls, doors, windows, rewiring etc.

This is to make sure no one will be harmed by coming into contact with asbestos whilst they are undertaking work at the property and so that contractors adopt the correct processes and methods of working.

What if a previous management survey did not identify asbestos?

A refurbishment and demolition survey will usually still be required even if an existing management survey did not identify the presence of asbestos. This is because a management survey is not fully intrusive and any asbestos hidden deep within the fabric of the building may only be discovered using more intrusive methods of inspection.

A refurbishment and demolition survey is on the other hand, fully intrusive and may involve lifting carpets and tiles, breaking through walls, ceilings and partitions if required. Its purpose is to locate and describe as far as is reasonably practicable any asbestos in the areas where the work is to take place. It is usually conducted with a view to removing rather than managing the asbestos and should prove useful in informing the asbestos removal tendering process. There is no need to survey the whole building unless demolition is planned.

What if asbestos is found on my premises?

It is usual when a property is being refurbished to remove any asbestos which contractors may come into contact with during the course of their work on the building. CAR 2006 (regulation 7) contains a specific requirement for all ACMs in the affected area to be removed, as far as is reasonably practicable, before any major refurbishment or demolition work takes place.

There may be asbestos present on site which does not need to be removed as part of the refurbishment because it will not be disturbed during the course of the works. These ACMs should be added to the asbestos register and the asbestos management plan updated accordingly.

The asbestos register records the types and locations of any asbestos which has been identified or which is presumed to be on site. The register must be kept up to date and must be made readily available to maintenance workers and contractors and anyone else who needs to know the locations of the asbestos on site.

If you would like to find out more about asbestos refurbishment and demolition surveys, read our comment article, Asbestos and the Refurbishment Season.

A recent prosecution (February 2012) shows how important it is to make sure you fulfil your legal asbestos duties by making sure you conduct a survey to determine the presence of asbestos and pass on any relevant information concerning asbestos to anyone who is likely to disturb it before refurbishing a building.

In the case in question a Cardiff property manager was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000 when he failed to identify and properly manage the risks from asbestos at one the premises his company managed.

The property manager had let out part of the building in question in 2007 but the presence of asbestos insulating board (AIB), asbestos roof tiles and brown and blue asbestos was only identified in 2008 when an asbestos survey was required for insurance purposes.

HSE investigations found the asbestos was in poor condition causing a risk of exposure to contractors, tenants and anyone else who may come into contact with the materials.

At the court hearing it was discovered that between 2005 and 2008 three companies had occupied the building during which time structural works had been completed to remove a partition wall and contractors had carried out electrical works at the site.

The HSE found that the property manager did not take the appropriate steps to confirm whether asbestos was present or liable to be present and failed to effectively identify and manage the risk which might arise from asbestos containing materials.

Make sure you check the competency of removal contractors

To avoid legal repercussions and costly fines it is important to make sure you have thoroughly checked out the credentials of the contractors you use for asbestos removal works as is highlighted in the following recent case.

Earlier this month a Welsh knitwear company was fined £25,000 for breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and ordered to pay a contribution of £15,000 towards court costs of £63,000. The contribution to court costs had been reduced after hearing that the company had already borne costs of around £1 million for decontamination and lost supplies.

When a sample taken from the roof of the factory confirmed the presence of white asbestos the company had hired contractors, which it believed were experienced, to remove the asbestos. Work commenced whilst the directors were abroad but on their return they asked the contractors to remove untidy material from the steel girders in the roof. The contractors chipped the materials from the roof and swept the debris into domestic bin bags which were put into open skips. No attempt was made to determine what the material was.

The HSE stepped in after an anonymous complaint alerted them that staff were continuing to work at the factory whilst asbestos was being removed. The factory was evacuated and the removal works stopped immediately. A specialist brought in to decontaminate the building was shocked to find clumps of dangerous asbestos inside the building and also outside on pallets.

It transpired at the court hearing that the contractors had never held an asbestos licence and had been struck off the companies register. They had also since gone into administration. The person in charge of the asbestos removal works pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable steps to prevent employees from being exposed to asbestos. He was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

If you are considering any renovations at your properties and are unsure of your asbestos obligations our asbestos consultants will be happy to advise you. To discuss your asbestos issues further please phone 01270 765121 or for further information visit our asbestos pages.