Timetable is suggested for asbestos removal from businesses, public buildings, and homes
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in various industries due to its heat-resistant and durable properties. However, its health risks are well known, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Although no longer in use, asbestos can still be found in roughly 300,000 of the UK’s non-domestic buildings such as schools, hospitals, and community centres, and in almost one million domestic buildings, particularly those constructed before the 1980s, when its use was banned in the UK.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to around 5,000 deaths per year in the UK, still the number one workplace killer in the UK, which has one of the highest mesothelioma rates in the world. Many of these deaths are due to occupational exposure, particularly in industries such as construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing. However, non-occupational exposure is also a concern, as many older buildings still contain asbestos in various forms.
In 2022, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended a target be set to remove all asbestos from non-domestic buildings within a 40-year timeframe, and committee chair Stephen Timms called asbestos-related deaths in the UK, “One of the great workplace tragedies of modern times”.
However, the government rejected the recommendations, arguing asbestos is safe if it remains undisturbed. Trade unions argue the government is putting lives at risk, suggesting that asbestos will always be disturbed, especially in buildings like schools that are in need of investment and renovation, where children run around. Some MPs are calling for an asbestos register so that it can effectively be removed from buildings, once and for all.
Challenges of managing old-encapsulated asbestos:
Encapsulated asbestos refers to asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that are still in place and have been coated or covered in a sealant to prevent the release of asbestos fibres. These materials can be found in various locations in buildings, including ceilings, walls, floors, and pipes. The encapsulation was a common practice in the past, but it is now recognised that even encapsulated asbestos can pose a risk if it becomes damaged or disturbed.
One of the main challenges of managing old-encapsulated asbestos is identifying its location and condition. Asbestos-containing materials are often hidden behind walls or ceilings, and it can be difficult to determine if they are damaged or deteriorating without conducting invasive testing. Moreover, some buildings may have been refurbished or altered since their construction, and the original asbestos-containing materials may have been replaced or removed.
Another challenge is determining the best course of action for managing encapsulated asbestos. In some cases, the best approach may be to leave the asbestos in place and monitor it for signs of damage or deterioration. In other cases, removal or remediation may be necessary, but this can be a costly and disruptive process.
What needs to be done:
To address the issue of old encapsulated asbestos still in situ, several actions are needed. Building owners and managers should:
Conduct a survey to identify any asbestos-containing materials and assess their condition. This survey should be carried out by a qualified professional and should include a comprehensive report detailing the location, condition, and recommended course of action for each ACM.
Develop an asbestos management plan that outlines how the ACMs will be managed, monitored, or removed. The plan should include procedures for regular inspections, maintenance, and repair, as well as contingency plans for dealing with any emergencies or unexpected events.
Ensure that anyone who may encounter asbestos-containing materials, such as maintenance workers, contractors, or tenants, is properly trained in asbestos awareness and safety procedures.
Old encapsulated asbestos still in situ presents a significant challenge for building owners and managers. However, by conducting a thorough survey, developing an asbestos management plan, and ensuring that all relevant parties are properly trained, the risks associated with encapsulated asbestos can be minimised. Ultimately, the goal should be to ensure that all buildings are asbestos-free and that the health and safety of all occupants are protected.