Understanding asbestos management and removal

Failure to identify, manage and remove asbestos safely can put lives at risk, so it is vital to understand the roles of all those involved in carrying out the hazardous work


  • Jeffrey Tribich

02 December 2021

Asbestos chrysotile fibres

Using the wrong or imprecise terms at work can be harmful, even dangerous. Accuracy is particularly critical in dealing with asbestos, when there is often confusion about who does what and why.

Asbestos-related practice can easily be misunderstood. However, the new edition of Asbestos: legal requirements and best practice for property professionals and clients RICS guidance note, covered in my previous article, should help clarify matters.

Reasons to appoint an asbestos consultant

There are various reasons why it can be helpful to appoint an asbestos consultant. They can provide general advice on asbestos issues, as well as devising strategies to deal with particular projects. This might extend to specifying and procuring an asbestos survey, interpreting and evaluating a survey report, and scoping and specifying required remediation or removal.

The role may also include activity on site, such as overseeing removal, inspections and advice on additional works. It may encompass advising on asbestos removal in particular circumstances – or, in some cases, recommending that the material be left in situ.

The appointment of an appropriately qualified and experienced asbestos consultant can ensure a safer, more cost-effective outcome. It also demonstrates best practice and good governance as far as regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are concerned. It could therefore form part of a defence in law in the event of an untoward event and alleged culpability.

Many clients, however, do not employ an independent asbestos consultant. Instead, they rely on their lead consultant to instruct asbestos surveys and other work in identifying, managing and removing the material.

In simple, straightforward situations this may be fine. However, the issue is how to discern whether a particular situation is, in fact, simple and straightforward. It may seem that way to a professional with relatively little training yet not actually be the case. There is thus some margin for erroneous judgements and, consequently, problems.

Issues with indemnity insurance

The insurance profession classifies asbestos as a contaminant or pollutant, and often excludes or limits professional indemnity insurance (PII) cover for it. Therefore, construction and property professionals – such as project managers, architects, building surveyors, building control surveyors, quantity surveyors, contract administrators and property managers – may have limited PII cover for asbestos-related services, if they have any at all.

As a result, the nature and extent of the services that they can safely offer could be restricted. However, many professionals may not realise this and could, unwittingly, provide services that are deemed to be asbestos-related and not covered by insurance.

It may therefore be prudent to employ an asbestos consultant, if only for minimal initial assessment and advice. A direct client appointment would be sensible, in order to clarify responsibilities and lines of accountability and simplify any insurance implications.

'The insurance profession classifies asbestos as a contaminant or pollutant, and often excludes or limits professional indemnity insurance cover for it'

Commissioning asbestos surveyors

An asbestos survey company identifies the presence and extent of asbestos in a building or on a site. It also categorises the types of asbestos-containing materials involved, and any that is in a dangerous state of repair.

Firms that carry out asbestos surveys are not legally required to be accredited to do so by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). However, the HSE strongly recommends that they are. I will cover UKAS accreditation in a future article.

Those commissioning asbestos surveys must ensure that the scope reflects the full extent of the proposed works, including all necessary opening up. This ensures a survey is fit for purpose.

They also need to make certain that the resulting report is not inappropriately drafted – some are so hedged about with caveats that they are in effect worthless. Surprisingly, such reports are sometimes even produced by UKAS-accredited survey firms. This, again, is something about which an asbestos consultant can advise, ideally at the survey commissioning stage.

Laboratory testing

The survey firm will need to have samples analysed to establish whether they contain asbestos. Legally, the laboratory used must be UKAS-accredited for testing.

Best practice is to appoint a survey firm that has an in-house laboratory, because this ensures the highest degree of control by simplifying and limiting each sample's chain of custody: the responsibility for both inspection and testing lies with a single organisation.

This avoids, for example, argument between separate survey and laboratory firms as to whether particular samples have been transferred, and contention over responsibility for possible contamination. It also helps in the event that results are required quickly, so that decisions on how to proceed can be made expeditiously.

However, this approach is not obligatory. Most survey firms do not have in-house testing facilities but work with separate laboratories, and would argue that this does not adversely affect the service that they provide. Surveying and testing each require a separate, discrete UKAS accreditation.

Some clients, or firms appointing on behalf of clients, opt to prepare an approved list of surveyors, setting criteria for eligibility; this will also be discussed in a future article.

Asbestos removals

After removing asbestos from a building or land, an asbestos removals contractor arranges for its disposal to a licensed landfill site. The firm may need to be licensed by the HSE, depending on the type of material and the risks inherent in removing it.

Higher-risk removals must be carried out by licensed contractors. Such work includes, for example, dealing with sprayed coatings and removals that may disturb pipe lagging. It can also involve loose-fill insulation and work on asbestos millboard, among other types. All such work is done within a separate, tented and sealed area under negative pressure to prevent airborne asbestos fibres escaping.

The HSE maintains a list of licensed contractors. The fact that a contractor is licensed does not mean, however, that its work is approved or guaranteed by HSE, or that it should be automatically trusted to proceed with removals without being closely observed and monitored. This will include scrutiny of its risk assessment and plan of work, or independent monitoring by a laboratory analyst as works progress.

Appointing an asbestos analyst

The client should directly appoint an independent UKAS-accredited laboratory to monitor the removal of licensable asbestos. Again, there is a statutory requirement for this laboratory to be UKAS-accredited for testing.

Testing includes measurement of airborne asbestos fibre levels; for example, sampling outside the tented or enclosed work area to check for possible dust escape while the removal work is in progress.

There is a legal requirement to clean the areas where asbestos has been removed. For licensable work, this is then checked and certified by the analyst. That involves carrying out the four-stage clearance process set out in the second edition of HSE’s Approved Code of Practice L143, Managing and working with asbestos.

Completion and certification

It is also mandatory for the analyst to issue the certificate for reoccupation. These procedures confirm that all asbestos has been removed, and that the tented or enclosed area inside which the removal has been carried out is safe for reoccupation.

Direct client appointment is important so as to avoid the contractor employing the analyst itself and influencing test and inspection results. While inspecting the removals area, the client-employed analyst can also assess any alleged additional work for which the asbestos removals contractor claims, although this represents an extra service.

This is a significant task, because most construction professionals administering such a contract are not adequately trained to enter an asbestos removal enclosure. Furthermore, their employers are not usually appropriately insured or sufficiently knowledgeable, prepared or organised to manage staff who have such direct exposure. An asbestos consultant could also give advice on this, following site inspection.

Although such monitoring and analysis is a separate operation from asbestos surveying, it is a service often provided by asbestos survey companies that have their own laboratories.

Understanding all these asbestos-related roles and the process of identifying, managing and removing the material can make for more efficient and safer practice that complies with the relevant regulations.

Jeffrey Tribich is the founder of Jeffrey Tribich Consulting and a member of the RICS Asbestos Working Group. He would like to thank other members of the group for their comments and suggestions in writing this article
Contact Jeffrey: Email

Related competencies include: Client care, Communication and negotiation, Health and safety

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