Many of the asbestos surveys we undertake each year are carried out on behalf of property developers. This type of client generally falls into three distinct categories.

  1. Those looking to buy a property but wanting an asbestos survey first.
  2. Those that have already bought a property and now need an asbestos survey to start demolition or refurbishment.
  3. Those that started works without an asbestos survey and have come across asbestos halfway through a project.

The ideal scenario

The ideal scenario, or belt and braces approach, to keep risk to health and potential liability to a minimum would involve the following:

Phase 1. Pre-purchase asbestos survey

The pre-purchase asbestos survey is basically the same scope as a management asbestos survey as described in the HSE 264 Asbestos: The survey guide.

When we are contacted by anyone looking to purchase a property for redevelopment we always advise them to get an asbestos survey carried out pre-purchase. This survey will give a good indication of the likely asbestos liabilities that they could be taking on. This can be done in conjunction with a desk top study to look at the history of the site to check for any historical industrial activity or previously demolished buildings which may give rise to asbestos ground contamination.

Phase 2. Full refurbishment or demolition asbestos survey

Once the developer has taken possession of the site the first thing to do is an intrusive asbestos survey. Depending on the plans for the site this will either be a full pre-demolition asbestos survey or a refurbishment asbestos survey. This survey should be conducted by UKAS accredited asbestos surveying organisation and must be properly planned and assessed in advance. This survey should have no caveats or restrictions placed on it.

Phase 3. Appointing an asbestos removal contractor

This is covered in a separate article. Click here to read more.

Phase 4. Appointing building and/or demolition contractors

Basic asbestos awareness training is the absolute minimum for any one working on a demolition site or refurbishment project. Even with the best intrusive asbestos survey in the world it is always possible that you can come across further asbestos containing materials buried within the fabric of the building that the asbestos survey could not hope to find.

Phase 5. Ongoing management of remaining asbestos containing materials

It is not always necessary or possible to remove the asbestos identified in the asbestos survey. Where asbestos is to be left in situ it must be managed safely throughout the building works and then once the building is occupied.

To manage during construction works it is vital that all contractors know exactly where the asbestos is located. This can be done by clear labelling or by effective dissemination of asbestos information. Providing a physical barrier between the asbestos and construction activities will provide additional levels of security.

The asbestos surveying company will be able to advise on the best way of managing asbestos in situ.

The keys to effective asbestos management rare as follows:

  • an accurate asbestos register
  • retention of testing and certificates or re-occupation or completeness
  • details of any asbestos remedial/removal work including waste consignment notes which will be given to you by the asbestos removal contractor

This information will need to be passed to the eventual owners/occupiers of the building so they can implement their own asbestos management system.

Surveying by risk

The below is a guide to which sites and properties represent the highest potential asbestos liability and which survey types we recommend.

Property/site type Age of building Potential liability and recommended asbestos surveys
Domestic & commercial Constructed post 2000 No asbestos survey required
Domestic & commercial 1990 to 2000 Limited potential liability. No need to conduct pre-purchase asbestos survey

Refurbishment/demolition asbestos survey legally required prior to commencing works

Domestic & commercial Built before 1990 Increased risk of asbestos liability including licensable asbestos materials requiring specialist asbestos removal contractors

Increased risk of legacy issues from previous industrial usage

Recommend conducting pre-purchase asbestos survey

Refurbishment/demolition asbestos survey legally required prior to commencing works

Industrial 1990 to 2000 Increased risk of legacy issues from previous industrial usage

Recommend pre-purchase asbestos survey ad desk top study

Refurbishment/demolition asbestos survey legally required prior to commencing works

Industrial Built pre 1990 High likelihood of licensable asbestos materials requiring specialist removal contractors

Increased risk of legacy issues from previous industrial usage

Recommend pre-purchase asbestos survey and desk top study

 

Refurbishment/demolition asbestos survey legally required prior to commencing works

Table for guidance only

The Legal Requirement

There is no requirement on developers to carry out an asbestos survey prior to purchasing a property. There is a risk associated with not knowing the potential asbestos liability but I’ll cover those later.

If you are going to be demolishing or disturbing the fabric or structure of the building then you absolutely have a legal requirement to assess the risks from asbestos. If the building was built after 2000 then you can presume it’s free of asbestos. If it was built prior to 2000 we need to start looking at asbestos surveys.

What the law actually says

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states that you…

‘…must not undertake work in demolition, maintenance or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose employees of that employer to asbestos in respect of any premises unless either—

(a) that employer has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present in those premises; or

(b) if there is doubt as to whether asbestos is present in those premises, that employer—

(i) assumes that asbestos is present, and that it is not chrysotile alone, and

(ii) observes the applicable provisions of these Regulations.’

As regulation go, that’s pretty clear. Either presume everything is asbestos or get an asbestos survey done.

Penalties for failing to adequately asbestos risks

In February 2016 the sentencing guidelines for breaches of health and safety offences were revised. The resulting guidelines mean that anyone found guilty of a breach can expect even more severe penalties ranging from significant fines to custodial sentences. The exact sentence will depend on several contributing factors. Predominantly the level of potential or actual harm and the likelihood of the harm occurring. As a possible outcome of exposure to asbestos is death then any offence automatically falls into the highest category for potential level of harm.

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