Asbestos in the practice

Almost 90% of trusts have hospitals with asbestos in them, a freedom of information investigation by the BBC has found. This silent killer was an everyday building material until its dangers became known and if your practice was built before the 1980s, then you might have asbestos in your building. Here’s what you need to know

In 2017 deaths from mesothelioma (asbestosis) reached 2,523. The majority of these cases relate to occupational asbestos exposure before the risks were known, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. However, the regulator has warned that practices should remain vigilant for any asbestosis that remains in buildings.

Here’s what you need to know about potential asbestos in your practice.

Where can asbestos be found?

Asbestos was a highly popular material; it’s fire-resistant, robust, malleable and cheap – which is why it found its way to many uses in construction.

Asbestos was a highly popular material; it’s fire-resistant, robust, malleable and cheap – which is why it found its way to many uses in construction.

In older building asbestos can sometimes be found in:

  • fire protection in ducts and structural steel-work, fire breaks in ceiling voids etc;
  • thermal insulation of pipes and boilers;
  • fire protection, thermal insulation, wall partitions, ducts, soffits, ceiling and wall panels;
  • roofing and wall-cladding, gutters, rainwater pipes, water tanks;
  • decorative plasters and paints;
  • roofing felt, floor and ceiling tiles.

How to spot asbestos?

If you’re not experienced at spotting it, asbestos can be hard to identify. In fact, unless there’s a clear identification mark, it can be difficult – and in some cases impossible – even for experts to confirm if a material is asbestos.

Even so, much of the advice is common sense. If building material looks old, and has been in place for many years, there is a risk that it could contain asbestos. In these circumstances, it’s important to exercise caution.

The HSE has created a gallery of images that highlight some of the commonest forms of asbestos you might find in your practice.

What do I do if I have asbestos in the practice? 

The duty to manage asbestos is covered by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. This duty requires the health and safety lead to manage the risk from asbestos by:

  • finding out if there is asbestos in the premises (or assessing if ACMs are liable to be present, and making a presumption that materials contain asbestos unless you have strong evidence that they do not), its location and what condition it is in;
  • making and keeping an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the asbestos (or presumed asbestos) in your premises;
  • assessing the risk from the material;
  • preparing a plan that sets out in detail how you are going to manage the risk from this material;
  • taking the steps needed to put your plan into action;
  • reviewing and monitoring your plan and the arrangements made to put it in place; and
  • setting up a system for providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on, or disturb, it.

How do I get rid of it?

Just because you have asbestos in your building, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to spend lots to dispose of it. The HSE guidelines suggest that asbestos in good condition, or with only minor damage, should be clearly labelled and repaired. The reason is that removing the material is riskier than leaving it in situ.

If you identify asbestos that is damaged, in poor condition or which is likely to be disturbed then you will need to have it removed. Removing asbestos yourself is dangerous so this is a task that should be left to a professional. The HSE recommends using a company that’s registered with the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association.

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