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Do I need to test for asbestos?

It’s a worry that many managers of pre-2000 buildings will face; how do I protect my staff and contractors from the dangers of asbestos whilst carrying out maintenance and repairs?

It is your responsibility as building manager to make sure that anyone carrying out work on the building is aware of the risks. Although any non-residential building built before 2000 should have an asbestos management plan in place, even if you’re a homeowner and you have contractors doing work, you still need to make sure they know about any materials that do or could contain asbestos.

Why do I need to take precautions?
Any works on or near asbestos containing materials, such as refurbishment, repairs, demolition or replacing old materials, could potentially disturb the asbestos, even if it is in good condition. Any damage or disturbance can cause asbestos fibres to become airborne, which could be inhaled and cause fatal health problems.

Do you need to test for asbestos before carrying out works?
By law, you don’t need to test for asbestos. You can just assume that there is asbestos and take the necessary precautions to make sure no one is put at risk. But these precautions can be a time-consuming and expensive option, and of course there’s no point taking all of the additional precautions if you don’t need to.

What are my options for testing for asbestos?
So, if you do not have proof there is no asbestos present, there are several options available, and the most appropriate will depend on the type or work, the size of the job and the urgency.

1. Assume there is asbestos and take precautions
This might be the best option for smaller jobs or where the work needs to be carried out urgently and you don’t have time to wait for samples to be taken and analysed. But this approach can quickly see costs skyrocketing if there’s lots of work to do.

2. Test as and when you need to carry out work
If you are carrying out larger jobs, or planned works that are likely to disturb asbestos, you can arrange for an asbestos surveyor to test the relevant areas. However, this means you can’t react quickly and projects can take much longer if you need to keep stopping and waiting for results.

3. A full asbestos management survey
You may prefer to carry out a complete building survey with an asbestos surveyor as part of your asbestos management plan. This will mean samples are taken of anything suspicious and a full report produced. Therefore whenever you need work to be done, the details will be available for your staff or contractors so they can see exactly where they need to take precautions for asbestos and where they do not.

4. A refurbishment and demolition survey (or R&D survey)
If you need to carry out extensive refurbishment works or demolition, an R&D survey will be required. It involves extensive and intrusive testing of any areas where damage will be caused to the fabric of the building. This approach could be necessary for something as simple as replacing a kitchen or bathroom or installing new windows.

Whether you decide to test for asbestos or not, the most important thing to remember is that you must not let the works go ahead without the necessary precautions unless you have proof there is no asbestos present.

If you need advice or guidance on whether you need testing or a survey carrying out, please get in touch. We understand that dealing with asbestos can be scary and are always happy to chat on the phone and provide advice with no obligation. Get in touch today.

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