Asbestos, Tackling the Taboo

Nearly four years on from the changes in the Asbestos Regulations there is still a taboo around asbestos in facilities management and construction. Why is this and what can be done to help change it?

The unexpected discovery of asbestos in a building or on a construction site rarely fails to set alarm bells ringing.  In the case of a non-domestic buildings the managers/owners are legally obliged to manage all asbestos present and it is therefore critical for businesses to be 'asbestos' aware - identifying its type and condition, assessing and controlling the risks in order to provide a safe environment for staff, customers and the public.

On construction sites, whilst the same basic statutory obligation applies and the discovery of asbestos in the ground on a contaminated site often rings similar alarm bells as in the case of commercial property, but the taboo around the subject leads to a reluctance to publicise the fact that it is there and there is a danger that this could lead to the risks being inadequately dealt with.

In the UK, the harsh reality is that asbestos is very likely to be present in any commercial building, built or refurbished before the year 1980 (which includes the majority of hotels, guest houses, restaurants and pubs). It is also possible that asbestos may be present in buildings constructed after this date. Asbestos is present on almost every brownfield site which has been subject to demolition in the last 50 years.

A naturally occurring fibrous material which was a popular building material from the 1940s, asbestos has good insulating properties and as such has been commonly used as an insulator, for fire protection and protection against corrosion. It is often mixed with other materials and is also commonly found in the form of floor and wall tiles, textured coatings to ceilings, bath panels, toilet cisterns, fuse boxes, old ovens, soundproofing and fire blankets. 

According to the HSE, asbestos is the single greatest cause of work related deaths in the UK. Every week on average 4 plumbers, 20 tradesmen, 6 electricians and 8 joiners die from asbestos related diseases. However, asbestos in good condition is relatively safe, it is when the material is damaged and the fibres become air-borne that the material becomes dangerous. If fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases including: mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening. These diseases are responsible for around 5000 deaths every year. 

It is no doubt statistics such as those cited above lead to the stigma regarding its presence in various situations notwithstanding the fact that asbestos in known and sealed locations does not present a risk. It is also notable that many insurance companies are now seeking to exclude asbestos related claims from their policies, which can only add to the reluctance to identify, assess and manage the issue properly thus perhaps leading to poorer management practices.

The correct identification, assessment and management of asbestos in all situations is the only way to continue and perhaps as time goes on the challenges will lessen. But facilities managers, developers and contractors need to ensure they employ qualified, insured consultants to deal effectively with the issues.


Merebrook Services


Merebrook are well established in the asbestos industry and have over 15  years' experience working with asbestos. We are UKAS accredited to undertake:


Management, Refurbishment and Demolition Asbestos Surveys

Asbestos Re-inspections

Emergency Bulk Sampling

Asbestos Management

Expert witness services


We also manage asbestos removal works on behalf of our clients. We can assist from locating asbestos in buildings all the way through the process to its safe removal, ensuring our client's are left with an asbestos free building and peace of mind that the works were done in a safe professional manner.


Our clients are finding that failures to take proper measures to deal with asbestos are leading to delays, complications and extra costs on many sites.  From time to time this means that recourse to legal action is needed and Merebrook has good experience in providing expert evidence to support such action.


For more information


Asbestos services email Lee Alldis or call 01689 889 980


Expert witness services email Simon Edwards or call 01773 829 988

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N.B. The information contained in this entry is provided by Idom Merebrook Ltd, and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

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