Taking control of asbestos at work

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 (and its supporting Approved Codes of Practice) will be put into place in September 2002 with a compliance date of March 2004. This is required to bring the UK into line with the European Chemical Agents Directive. Steve Hurst, senior asbestos consultant with the London office of RPS Consultants, reflects on the implications of the new regulations.

The Heath & Safety Commission (HSC) has stated that there could be as many as 1.5 million workplace properties with asbestos in them that will need to be assessed.

The main point to be noted from the new regulations is related to the responsibility of the duty holder for the building. This is outlined in Regulation 4 and is expected to state the following.

Regulation 4 will require:

  • reasonable steps to be taken to find materials in premises likely to contain asbestos and to check their condition,

  • a presumption that materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence to suppose they do not,

  • a written record of the location and condition of asbestos and presumed asbestos materials which is kept up to date,

  • the risk of the likelihood of anyone being exposed to these materials to be assessed,

  • a management plan to be prepared and put into effect.

What these requirements mean in practical terms is that any building likely to contain asbestos (buildings pre-1999 can contain limited asbestos products and buildings of pre-1981 construction can contain very substantial quantities of asbestos) must be surveyed.

Further, this survey must be recorded as a written document. All materials that can’t be confirmed as not containing asbestos must be treated as though they do. The risk that these materials pose to users of the building must be assessed and written down and

any actions required by these risk assessments must be completed.

Asbestos surveys

Many buildings have already had asbestos surveys conducted on them over the years but will no longer be accepted as a register under the new regulations. The survey must now be revisited on a regular basis to ensure that it is up to date (this in most cases should be primarily a desktop study) and an HSE guidance note on how to achieve this was released in August 2001.

This guidance on the definition of what constitutes a survey and register was released within the HSE document MDHS100 and so far only a few companies have been accredited by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) to work within its parameters. The definition of what a survey is was radically different from that of the industry standard of a couple of years ago. The new standard requires that all areas be assessed for risk from asbestos and these assessments written down. Therefore an area that has no asbestos must be recorded as having no risk from asbestos. This is different from the old style reports where a room that did not contain asbestos was often omitted from the report. The reason for this is to allow positive identification of risk – a worker planning a project should be able to go to the report, find an entry for that room and act according to any recommendations.

Duty holder

The Duty Holder has also been defined and is based on the conditions of each individual lease. Basically the party that has ‘control’ of an area is required to follow the above. In the example of a building with multiple tenants, the tenants will be required to survey their demised areas and the landlord the common areas (including external). If these surveys are completed piecemeal, the result will be that there is no single document where all the risk is detailed and all parties will pay more collectively for the service. A more cost effective and better management tool would be for a single survey to be completed with the tenants being cross-charged for their areas of responsibility. The result of this would be that the landlord would pay little or none of the costs.

The HSE has also issued an information pack in its campaign to promote awareness of the proposed Duty to Manage the asbestos in premises under the new regulations.

RPS Consultants has been engaged as the asbestos consultant to the Pfizer Global Research and Development and Pfizer Global Manufacturing since February 1999, when a programme of asbestos surveys was undertaken in its research and manufacturing buildings at its main site in Sandwich, Kent.

These surveys of over 100 buildings in total have resulted in several large scale remediation projects which RPS Consultants have project managed, supervised and monitored on behalf of Pfizer Ltd.

Management protocol

RPS, working in partnership with Pfizer have developed an asbestos management protocol whereby no work on building structures can take place without consultation of the asbestos register and RPS Consultants, who will advise as to any

risk and where necessary, remediation works need to be conducted.

As a result of the works carried out to date, Pfizer are already compliant with the proposed new duty to manage asbestos, to be introduced into the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002.

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