FAQs Asbestos

SOCOTEC is a leading provider of asbestos management and consultancy services across a wide range of business sectors and property types.

  • Am I legally obliged to undertake an asbestos survey of my commercial building?
  • How do I determine what type of survey I need?
  • Do I have to remove any asbestos that I find in my property and if so do I need to use a licensed contractor?
  • What asbestos training do my employees need?
  • Does the law stipulate that my company should employ an internal ‘Asbestos Manager’?
  • What should I be looking for when selecting an asbestos consultancy to carry out my asbestos survey?
  • What changes are expected in the revised HSG248 'Asbestos: The Analysts' Guide', due for release later this year?
  • What accreditations does SOCOTEC have?
  • How do you complete asbestos surveys in tunnels, ducts and other confined spaces?
  • Where can I expect to find asbestos?
  • Where am I likely to find asbestos in an industrial building?
  • What is the Importance of Using an Independent Asbestos Consultancy?
  • Is asbestos still a threat to the UK Supply Chain?
  • Can I claim back any costs from the government for developing contaminated land and/or removing asbestos from my buildings?

Am I legally obliged to undertake an asbestos survey of my commercial building?

Strictly speaking there is no legal requirement for any building to have an asbestos survey for normal day-to-day operations. Regulation 4 'The Duty to Manage' of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 state the requirements are to:

  • Undertake reasonable measures to locate or presume the location of asbestos containing materials

  • Prepare a record of the location and condition of the materials

  • Assess the risk posed by the materials

  • Produce and implement a plan outlining how the risk will be managed

  • Periodically update the plan and ensure anyone liable to disturb the materials has access to the relevant information

In short, all commercial buildings in the UK should have a record of known or presumed asbestos containing materials and a plan for how those materials are to be managed.

Although this does theoretically mean you could produce your own register of asbestos containing materials and management plan, in practice, it usually means engaging a competent person or organisation to undertake an asbestos management survey.   

How do I determine what type of survey I need?

A management survey is a non-destructive survey which does not disturb the fabric of the building. This type of survey is usually sufficient for the purposes of normal occupation and prior to most maintenance tasks. All accessible surface materials will be assessed but it should also assess areas such as ceiling voids and risers, which could be subject to maintenance activity. 

An asbestos refurbishment survey or an asbestos demolition survey will be required if intrusive works are planned on your building, such as refurbishment, new services installation (fire alarms, CCTV etc) or demolition. Both surveys involve intrusive inspection of normally inaccessible areas with the aim of locating 'hidden' asbestos containing materials, which could be disturbed by the planned project.

The HSE recommends engaging UKAS accredited surveying organisations as they have been independently audited to confirm compliance with the HSG 264 guidance, as well as demonstrating suitable quality control standards and staff training processes. 

Do I have to remove any asbestos that I find in my property and if so do I need to use a licensed contractor?

The short answer is no, asbestos containing materials do not have to be removed when they are located or as part of a phased removal programme thereafter. In fact, it is often more dangerous to remove the materials than it is to manage them in situ. The HSE guidance states that asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in good condition that are unlikely to be disturbed, should be managed and not removed.

If ACMs are in bad condition or likely to be disturbed by normal occupation or indeed by project work, you may need to consider remedial actions. One such option would be to remove the materials but it may also be feasible to repair, ‘encapsulate’ or protect the materials to prevent damage and reduce risks.

In addition, you may wish to consider redesigning project activities to work around any ACMs, making contractors aware of the location and mitigating the risk of disturbance by avoiding direct contact.

Where all other options are not suitable or the material is in very poor condition, your only option may be to remove the ACM entirely. Where licensable materials (such as lagging, sprayed coating or insulating board) are concerned you will most likely need to engage a licensed asbestos removal contractor to undertake the work, and they will need to submit a notification to the enforcing authority. Where a notification for licensed work is required there is a mandatory ‘standstill’ period of 14 days before the work can commence.

For lower risk materials (such as floor tiles and cement sheeting), you can use a non-licensed contractor to remove the materials, however you must still ensure the contractor is competent to undertake the work (has suitable risk assessments and method statement) and that they dispose of the resulting waste correctly. They may also need to submit a notification to the enforcing authority if significant deterioration of the material will take place during removal, but in these instances work can commence immediately following issue of the notification.

What asbestos training do my employees need?

Asbestos training requirements are specific to the roles and responsibilities of individual employees, therefore a training needs analysis should be undertaken to determine specific requirements for each role within your business.

Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 governs asbestos information, instruction and training requirements, meaning that employers have a legal duty to ensure their employees are suitably trained.

There are three levels of asbestos training:

  1. Asbestos awareness
  2. Non-licenseable work with asbestos including NNLW
  3. Licenseable work with asbestos

Levels 2 and 3 are for individuals who will be deliberately working on, or disturbing, asbestos containing materials, while level 3 is limited to Licensed Asbestos Removal Operatives. Asbestos awareness training is designed to avoid accidental disturbance of asbestos materials and is required  to be provided to any employee who could conceivably disturb asbestos containing materials during their normal work activities and also those individuals that manage and control the same activities. This includes trades such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians but also those controlling and influencing works, such as architects, project managers and building consultants.

Training should be refreshed regularly to ensure ongoing awareness and the refresher can take many forms including e-learning or in-house delivery via a competent individual.

There is no legal requirement for awareness training to be an accredited course, however, the trainer should be experienced and competent in the subject and the course content should meet the legislative guidance.

There are a number of organisations whose members provide asbestos training courses. 

Does the law stipulate that my company should employ an internal ‘Asbestos Manager’?

There is no legal requirement for a company to have a dedicated asbestos manager, however many large companies do have such a role within their business. All non-domestic premises will have at least one asbestos ‘Duty Holder’ who is responsible for complying with the asbestos regulations in relation to that property. For large organisations this role is likely to be shared across a small number of individuals but the company’s asbestos management plan will define how the role is discharged and what each person’s role is.

All companies who own, or manage, properties where they have a responsibility for maintenance and access to/from the property must have an asbestos management plan and take measures to ensure they comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Appointing an ‘Asbestos Manager’ or ‘Corporate Duty Holder’ within an organisation can help provide focus to the various tasks that must be undertaken to ensure asbestos compliance is maintained. Tasks such as, coordinating the regular re-inspection of asbestos materials, managing the delivery of training courses across the business, updating policy and procedures, liaison with asbestos consultants and removal organisations, and auditing internal and external processes.

Where a formal dedicated role is not warranted, perhaps due to the relative size and complexity of a company’s buildings, it is important that the individuals who hold responsibility for discharging the various duties associated with asbestos management are suitably competent in doing so and are fully aware of their responsibilities.

What should I be looking for when selecting an asbestos consultancy to carry out my asbestos survey?

Best value does not always mean lowest price and where asbestos surveys are concerned, it is important to ensure you receive the best product in order to base your subsequent management decisions on reliable information.

As a client appointing asbestos survey works you have a duty to select suitably competent and experienced organisations, or individuals, to carry out the asbestos survey works on your behalf.

HSE guidance suggests that a competent asbestos surveyor will:

  • Have survey knowledge, and know the risks in surveying
  • Have recognised training (BOHS or RSPH) and experience, and understand their limitations
  • Use a quality management system (ISO17020)
  • Show independence, impartiality and integrity
  • Do its work in accordance with good practice guidance, eg HSG264

Clients are required to assess the above points before appointing asbestos surveyors, failure to do so could result in prosecution if the work is not completed to satisfactory standards.

It is no easy (or quick) task however, to complete these assessments and many clients will feel this is above their level of knowledge or competence to do so. Therefore the HSE advises accreditation (to ISO/IEC 17020) or certification, by an approved body. This is due to the fact that the independent accreditation or certification body will have carried out audits to assess these very same points.

In the UK the only organisation offering accreditation to ISO/IEC 17020 for organisations is UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) www.ukas.com.

Individual certification schemes (for individual surveyors) were previously available but are no longer operating. These include ABICS (Asbestos Builders Inspection Certification Scheme) and National Individual Asbestos Certification Scheme (NIACS).

It is worth noting that all organisations and individuals undertaking asbestos surveys must submit samples to a UKAS accredited laboratory for analysis. This accreditation is ISO/IEC 17025, also provided by UKAS and will be included within survey reports. This does not mean that the surveying organisation is necessarily accredited for surveys (inspection) also.

Unlike the analysis of samples for asbestos content, there is no legal requirement to use a UKAS accredited organisation to undertake your asbestos surveys. That being said, more and more companies are choosing to do so, due to the security and confidence this provides. Furthermore the HSE strongly recommends using an accredited surveyor.

In addition to the quality standards covered by accreditation you may also wish to assess some (or all) of the following points when choosing to work with a surveying company:

  • Location and coverage - if you have a national portfolio do you require a company with matching coverage? Similarly, if you are a small regional business, can your chosen surveyor support you locally?
  • Sector experience - knowledge of your business sector can be advantageous when undertaking asbestos surveys from an operational and practical perspective
  • Laboratory analysis - does the surveyor have its own laboratory or will it be subcontracting the testing?
  • Handling data and IT systems - these days there is more and more reliance on interrogation of data and web based access to survey reports, particularly for large organisations with multiple buildings. Can your chosen surveyor offer these additional services?
  • Service standards and references - do not be afraid to ask for references from similar clients, all reputable organisations should be able to provide references for you to follow up. Likewise you can ask for examples of service standards for its existing clients
  • Report format - asbestos surveys are technical documents and can be confusing to read. Take time to request and review report formats to make sure you understand how the information will be presented to you upon completion

The above list is not exhaustive and each business or individual will have their own unique requirements. The important thing to remember is that the purpose of the asbestos report is ultimately to prevent individuals being exposed to harmful asbestos fibres. With that aim in mind, quality should always come before price when selecting a suitable surveyor.

What changes are expected in the revised HSG248 'Asbestos: The Analysts' Guide', due for release later this year?

‘Asbestos: The Analysts’ Guide for sampling, analysis and clearance procedures’ contains guidance for analysts involved in asbestos work and is the authoritative source of asbestos analytical procedures. The guidance is also designed to help analysts and their clients comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the associated Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) and guidance L143 (Second Edition)2.

It is expected that the revised version of the analysts’ guide will specify additional client involvement in the asbestos removal process. Our experts have outlined the main expected changes for clients below:

Engaging asbestos analysts for four-stage clearance and other work

Clients can engage analysts for a whole range of asbestos sampling and analysis activities and to provide advice and consultancy services. Note that analysts need to be accredited by UKAS for most asbestos related work. Details of analysts can be found on the UKAS website. Clients should check analyst references and examples of previous work to ensure competency.

Asbestos removal

  • It is recommended that clients engage analysts directly rather than through an asbestos licensed contractor
  • It is advisable that the analyst discusses with the client the expected level of cleanliness for the removal work
  • There will be some impact on the time, and therefore cost, of carrying out four-stage clearances due to:
    • Increased time on site by the analyst. The client needs to be aware how long the thorough visual inspection part of the 4-stage clearance will take (should be discussed with analyst). The time will be inserted in the front page of the completion document for the work. This is the “Certificate for Reoccupation” (CfR)
    • The necessity for the analyst to make a comprehensive photographic record of the work
  • Once the work has been completed the client should:
    • Check the report thoroughly including ensuring photographs show clearly that areas are visually clean
    • Check the CfR time taken for the thorough visual inspection against the estimated time. Where there is a large difference (eg 20% or more), seek an explanation
  • If issues are raised during the work then the client should discuss these with the analyst
  • Dust sampling – advice is given on sampling and potential difficulties of interpreting the results. Dust sampling is not recommended as a standard practice and the guidance suggests it is only used in circumstances such as assessing the spread of an asbestos containing material (ACM) from poorly controlled maintenance, removal work or recent incident
  • Asbestos in soil – guidance on sampling and procedure for identification are now included in the guidance for completeness

Keep updated

As the UK’s leading provider of testing, inspection and compliance services, we aim to keep our clients up-to-date with the latest industry news and changes to legislation. Although there is not yet a date for the release of the revised asbestos analysts’ guide, we will continue to keep you posted. Look out for further information in the coming weeks. 

What accreditations does SOCOTEC have?

SOCOTEC has UKAS accreditation No.0148 for asbestos surveying and No.1089 for asbestos testing. 

How do you complete asbestos surveys in tunnels, ducts and other confined spaces?

Classification of a confined space is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as a substantially enclosed place, where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space. ‘Enclosures for the purposes of asbestos removal’ is explicitly listed as an example of a confined space in the HSE: Safe work in confined spaces.

As stated under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, every employer should make sufficient assessment of the risks for all work activities to decide what measures are necessary for safety.

With asbestos surveys in confined spaces, not only does the surveyor need to take into account the hazardous materials of asbestos fibres, and wear the appropriate PPE for undertaking the survey, risk also needs to be calculated and assessed for working in a confined space. This presents other health and safety concerns that are not traditionally aligned with asbestos surveys, including:

  • A lack of oxygen
  • Poisonous gas, fume or vapour
  • Drowning from liquids and asphyxiation from solids
  • Fire and explosions
  • Working in hot conditions

However, the planning and surveying of confined spaces should essentially be no different to that of any other survey in any other location. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is the same across the UK, inclusive of spaces at the bottom of a shaft or in a tunnel.

Control measures need to be put into place, like with any asbestos survey, for taking and encapsulating asbestos samples to ensure that the analyst is safe.

The added risk of completing the asbestos survey in a confined space needs to be assessed, identified and mitigated before undertaking the survey. By collating information, the surveyor must ensure the correct safety equipment has been acquired, and the appropriate timings and costs have been accounted for. Other considerations could include:

  • Tight spaces, that may inhibit access, may require specialist assistance or equipment, for example.
  • The ability to enter and exit the site is crucial to safety, so ensuring the asbestos surveyor is of a suitable size to easily access the area is also important.
  • Emergency procedures need to be considered and put into place, as well as ensuring a rescue team is on hand – where appropriate.
  • Training and competency required by the authorised surveyor will vary depending on the classified risk (either low, medium or high) to ensure sufficient experience for working in risk-associated areas. This will include an induction on site.

Where can I expect to find asbestos?

When it comes to asbestos, roofing and insulation materials tend to be the first things that come to mind. However, not everyone is so aware of the other common materials that may contain asbestos; the HSE list a few examples, such as sprayed coatings, flooring, and textured coatings – all of which pose a health risk if disturbed without suitable precautions.

Take a look at five applications of asbestos use to illustrate some common and some not so common areas where asbestos can be found.

Read our blog on unusual asbestos discoveries.

Where am I likely to find asbestos in an industrial building?

Many buildings that were constructed before 2000 are highly likely to contain asbestos with more than 500,000 public buildings still containing asbestos today. Due to its tensile strength and properties as a thermal and electrical insulator with good chemical resistance, asbestos was widely used in construction materials – right up until its ban in 1999.

The below diagram gives an overview and provides examples of where asbestos may have been used in an industrial setting.

Download our Locations of Asbestos diagram

Some asbestos containing materials are higher risk than others, depending on the likelihood of asbestos fibres being released into the atmosphere.

Asbestos cement products, for example, are only likely to release fibres if the product is broken or damaged – the content of asbestos is also relatively low at around 10-15%. During original production, the asbestos was mixed into cement products to increase their strength. Once set, the fibres were contained within the cement matrix. Only when broken, damaged or planned construction/remediation works are taking place would asbestos exposure need to be considered. Asbestos cement water tanks are just one example of where asbestos cement products may be hidden in an industrial building; cladding, roofing, gutters and pipes are other typical applications.

Lagging, on the other hand, can contain up to 85% of asbestos. Used as thermal insulation around pipes and boilers, asbestos was an obvious choice to prevent heat escaping, as well as for fire prevention methods. Substitutes have been used since the ban, but asbestos-based lagging is still found in many buildings. Disturbance of lagging is fairly easy, even though it is often covered in a protective coating. Because of this, and due to the high asbestos content, asbestos lagging is classified as a high risk material and should only be handled by licensed asbestos contractors.                                                                                  

The list above is not exhaustive. Even after the ban on asbestos use in November 1999, there have been cases of stockpiled ACMs being used through the construction supply chain.

What is the Importance of Using an Independent Asbestos Consultancy?

When it comes to managing asbestos, it often goes beyond the legal responsibility to simply identify asbestos containing materials (ACMs), assess the risks and manage those risks.

Having a specialist asbestos consultancy on board to offer independent advice and a wider perspective can support your organisation in many ways. The development of a collaborative relationship where a core understanding of the specific constraints, concerns and requirements can lead to added value and the development of strategies offering genuine return on investment.

When looking at the management of asbestos in the short term, mid-term and long term, both the health and safety and cost implications should be reviewed; it should never be a case of “Let’s just get this asbestos out”. Often, it can be more dangerous to remove the asbestos containing materials than it is to manage them in situ. If the ACM’s are in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed or damaged, then they could be managed and not removed.

This is both a cost and time-saving benefit, without compromising on safety. By not rushing in and removing all identified asbestos immediately, a management approach can be established based on a full and developed understanding of asbestos risk across the building, site or property portfolio. Where budget constraints are in place, a risk based approach to asbestos management can help to identify priorities:

  • Refined risk categorisation
  • Low risk removals that can reduce annual re-inspection costs
  • Other management approaches offering better value for money when compared to simply removing.

Using an independent asbestos consultancy means you will have peace of mind that the advice given is the best option for you, as the client, with cost savings recommendations given where appropriate.

On a regular basis, as an independent consultant, part of our role is to review recommendations for asbestos removal. Often clients are removing their asbestos because they’ve been advised to do so, but it is fundamental that the advice given is by a competent consultancy, following the completion of a survey to ensure the asbestos has been fully risk assessed.

Asbestos removals, unless in an emergency, should be completed following a complete review of the asbestos risk, a fully UKAS accredited asbestos survey and discussion with all stakeholders. For situations where asbestos removal is required, there is a legal requirement for an independent asbestos analyst to be appointed to complete the four stage clearance procedure. Early stage involvement in the development of the removals strategy and/or specification provides a greater and more developed understanding of the overall requirements; when it comes to ratifying that all works have been completed as required, early stage involvement has proved to be invaluable.

Is asbestos still a threat to the UK Supply Chain?

Increasingly, the widespread reality of asbestos risk is hitting headlines and often in the most unexpected of places. Over the past 12 months, The Independent and BBC have reported on asbestos fibres found in makeup items, mesh gauzes, talcum powder and crayons.  

An article written by The Independent declares the asbestos-contaminated makeup originated from China, but did not contain a list of ingredients on the packaging. Only when tested by a consumer did the presence of asbestos become apparent and action was taken to remove the contaminated item from the shelf. Similarly, a public interest group discovered the presence of asbestos in crayons. Each are troubling incidents that places the risk of asbestos at the forefront as, despite its ban in the UK in 1999, asbestos is still very much present throughout the country. Asbestos has even been found in cigarettes  where unscrupulous black market cigarette manufactures use it as an additive with examples being identified in Ireland and in the UK. 

Just last year, 19 years after the ban, schools were alerted to the potential risk that recently supplied gauze mats used in science blocks may contain asbestos. This incident came as a result of a number of companies unknowingly importing asbestos containing products leading to the HSE providing advice that ‘Any gauze that contains asbestos should not be used, and it must be safely disposed of as asbestos waste.’

Even with asbestos banned in 66 countries around the world, the asbestos economy continues to grow in China – one of the world’s largest producers of asbestos – as well as Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan. In 2017, an estimated 900,000 metric tonnes of asbestos were produced in Russia and China alone. Which raises the question: is asbestos still a threat to the UK supply chain?

New products appearing in the marketplace is quite a different concern to the legacy items of asbestos in building materials. Since the ban in 1999, there is the assumption that new products will not pose a risk. For legacy items and pre-2000 buildings, suitably trained persons will be aware of the presence of asbestos in items such as insulation boards, construction materials, lagging and fire proofing – knowing where to exercise caution. For items such as make-up, toys and crayons, the risks are unexpected.

Asbestos-free declarations can be made for products imported from overseas but this relies on transparency and accuracy of the supply chain.

Imports into the UK should be declared 100% free from asbestos, covering the complete product including any fittings, equipment, cables, gaskets, glands, packing, brake linings, lagging insulation. Yet even this causes controversy as asbestos-free declarations can vary, depending on the country. Asbestos content in the EU can be 0.1% and still be considered asbestos-free, whereas the USA defines asbestos-free as containing up to 1% of asbestos content. Worse still is that some Asian countries consider ‘asbestos free’ to mean less than 10% asbestos content.

Since 2005, the World Health Organization has urged its members to work toward eliminating mesothelioma and other cancers caused by avoidable exposures to carcinogens at work and in the environment. As asbestos is impossible to identify with the eye, ensuring asbestos remains outside of the UK must be met with due diligence and quality control checks at all areas of the supply chain. Testing for asbestos to determine if asbestos is present is one way in which an asbestos laboratory can support vigilance and ensuring the supply chain is trustworthy in bringing asbestos-free products into the UK marketplace.

Can I claim back any costs from the government for developing contaminated land and/or removing asbestos from my buildings?

If you’re developing land that is contaminated, you may be eligible to make a tax relief claim assuming that the conditions below (in addition to other criteria) apply: 

  • The contamination is as a result of industrial activity including construction, gas generation, mining or manufacturing
  • The contamination has not been caused or planted by the claiming party
  • The land is out of use and must be remediated before reuse is possible
  • You are a company conducting land remediation expenditure

Land Remediation Relief (LRR) was introduced in 2001 (and revisited in 2009) to encourage the redevelopment of disused and contaminated sites, by offering a 150% tax deduction.

Gov.uk states that companies can elect to treat qualifying capital expenditure as a deduction in computing taxable profits - whereby remediation has been required to remove or contain contamination so relevant harm is no longer an issue. LRR provides a deduction of 100% of the qualifying expenditure, plus an additional deduction of 50%.

Asbestos contamination within the ground has become increasingly challenging for anyone seeking to develop brownfield sites. Additionally, asbestos in building materials may also need to be remediated as part of the development, with the cost of which classified as ‘qualifying expenditure’. While the name suggests the relief is available for contaminated land, it also can apply to buildings.

Where guidance is being sought to aid in the remediation of such contaminated sites, LRR can be claimed to support the qualifying remediation expenditure. The relief available varies depending on whether you are the owner/investor or the developer.

As an asbestos and contaminated land consultancy provider, and not an accountancy specialist, SOCOTEC is not able to directly advise on financial claims in relation to LRR or other tax related matters. For financial advice, please contact an accountancy firm who should be able to offer a range of financial advice and services.  SOCOTEC can, however, provide a number of asbestos and contaminated land consultancy services in relation to asbestos in soil, ground and construction material contamination – click here to find out more or contact us.

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