Highlighting the Asbestos Risk in our Construction Industry

Asbestos has a bad name throughout all industries in the UK, but a large proportion of past exposures can probably be linked to some form of construction or intrusive maintenance work.

Speaking in general terms, asbestos is really only dangerous to humans if we breathe in the fibres, and as such only becomes an issue when ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) are in a friable state. Friable meaning the material is ‘disturbed’ in some way and fibres become airborne, making the inhalation of fibres very possible.

So why is asbestos such a risk within the construction industry?

Well, inherently construction, is just that- it’s construction. We have intrusive work, excavations, drilling, demolition and breaking containment all taking place, to name a few. This is where the real risk lies. It also reinforces the fact we need to be managing our asbestos and managing the risk to our employees as best we can.

There are two main aspects of Asbestos Management in Construction, these are detailed below.

  1. Managing asbestos under your control (acting as Duty Holder or Person in Charge)
  2. Managing the risk to your workers during construction work

The first refers to work generally being undertaken within your premises where you are accountable for ACMs whilst other companies are undertaking intrusive or construction related work.

The second refers to intrusive construction work being undertaken within a client/contractor building.

Both extremely valid but require slightly different management techniques. All parts of the Asbestos Management System are governed by Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR2012) and some elements cross over with Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

Managing asbestos under your control (acting as Duty Holder or Person in Charge) 

This management system is the most common method of asbestos management throughout the UK, and typically includes all businesses within all industries, not just construction.

So the premise behind the management of asbestos comes from CAR2012 but is also clearly defined in L143 Managing and Working with Asbestos ACoP (Approved Code of Practice).

It is the responsibility of the duty holder (generally the most senior person in your organisation) to ensure all ACMs within your place of work or within buildings you own are identified, risk assessed and managed accordingly. So how do we manage asbestos effectively? Here’s a quick step by step guide:

  1. Identify your Duty Holder (most senior person in the organisation).
  2. Duty Holder to appoint a ‘competent’ person for day to day asbestos management.
  3. Find your ‘WHY’. What are you hoping to achieve with asbestos management.
  4. Identify your buildings, infrastructure and land (age, condition, floor plans etc).
  5. Appoint competent asbestos surveyors.
  6. Undertake full asbestos management surveys.
  7. Prepare asbestos action plan (scoring highest priority items first).
  8. Appoint competent Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractors (LARC).
  9. Instruct asbestos abatement or remedial work (as per your ‘WHY’ above).
  10. Continue to manage your asbestos, rinse and repeat.

Ok, we’ve covered how you manage YOUR asbestos. Let’s look at planning and implementing some construction work.

Managing the risk to your workers during construction work

We’re now into the realms of putting workers, including trades and contractors, at risk.

The main element of any construction related asbestos risk should be managed with CDM 2015 in mind. These regulations now clearly state who is responsible for what ‘part’ of the construction project. Basically the responsibilities should be handed over at various stages of the ‘project’.

So, working in chronological order, this is how it should work:

During the scoping phase of the project, the Client should clearly identify what the project hopes to achieve (refurbishment, installation of new equipment etc). The client should also have a good grasp on all things construction related, but generally what happens is the client, rightly so, appoints a competent Principal Designer.

The Principal Designer is responsible for identifying the risk during the Pre-Construction Phase. How do they do this? Well, they prepare documents and gather information mainly from desktop studies or site investigations to include within the Health & Safety File and the Pre-Construction Information pack.

This could include floor plans, utilities information and asbestos register/surveys. If there isn’t any information like this upfront- then they should seek to gather as much detail as possible. The Client should allow as much time, money and resource as necessary to obtain this information.

Once the Principal Designer has enough information and the project is now ready to move into the construction phase, the Client can appoint a Principal Contractor (or Contractor).

All the information obtained within the Pre-Construction Phase can now be passed on to the Principal Contractor and we can start to utilise this information to prepare Risk Assessments.

The Principal Contractors can use the asbestos surveys, floor plans, utilities surveys (etc) to then create a realistic plan on how to deliver the work safely and to Client requirements.

See why it’s so important to identify these risks upfront?

One of the most common pitfalls of construction projects is the lack of information provided at the start of the project. This is why the construction industry has some of the worst statistics when it comes to fatalities and serious injuries at work.

If you tell Contractors at the start of the project that you know or presume materials to be asbestos containing, then they are far more likely to do something about it.

For more information or to discuss anything asbestos related:

Darren Campbell

Asbestos Subject Matter Expert at DPC Safety