Full Predemolition Asbestos Surveys Can Prevent Costly Delays And Risk of Prosecution!

Two decades after the import of white ‘chrysotile’ asbestos into the UK was finally banned, it should be routine for full predemolition asbestos surveys to be carried out prior to work proceeding. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Today, it may be more widely understood that asbestos containing materials (ACMs) should be suspected in any building constructed before 2000. However, local authorities, property developers and building firms can still underestimate the quantities of asbestos hidden within a 1960s council housing estate, disused factory, engineering workshop or any commercial premises.

Often, an initial estimation on the quantities of asbestos which may be present are found to be wholly inadequate. More than half of a project budget overspend can involve the removal of the additional asbestos discovered, and cause weeks or even months of delay in completing a redevelopment project.

HSE regularly prosecute for a failure to carry out a full predemolition asbestos survey

Between the late 1940s and mid 1980s – peak years of use in the UK as a low cost insulation product – around 170,000 tons of asbestos was annually imported. Following the UK ban of the most toxic brown and blue asbestos fibre types in 1985, around 37,600 tons of white asbestos were coming into the country. Some 1,800 tons of white asbestos were still arriving 12 months prior to the final import ban in late 1999.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regularly prosecute for the failure to carry out a thorough demolition and asbestos removal, which is a legal requirement.

One recent example of an incomplete survey involved a large public building and the discovery of sprayed asbestos insulation on the underside of a ceiling but which failed to find more than 200 square metres of asbestos insulation board (AIB) located above ceiling level. Work proceeded with contractors unaware of the additional asbestos. As a result,  asbestos dust was released into the immediate area, which was then swept into a pile and left on the floor. Both building contractors and insulation consultants were prosecuted by HSE.

Code of Practice Guide sets out CAR 2012 legal requirement for predemolition asbestos surveys

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), Regulation 5 concerns identifying the presence of asbestos, its type and condition before any construction or maintenance work liable to disturb asbestos begins. It also sets out the requirement to arrange an investigation to determine the extent of asbestos if it is suspected that the materials are likely to be present on the premises.

In 2016, the Joint Industry Working Group (JIWG) issued a Code of Practice: ‘Practitioners’ Guide to Asbestos In Soil and Construction & Demolition Materials. Included are sections on site assessment, risk assessment, laboratory analysis, health & safety and transport of survey material. It also details CAR 2012.

The Code of Practice clearly sets out the legal requirement for:

  • All non-domestic buildings to undergo a predemolition asbestos survey which will locate and describe, ‘as far as reasonably practicable’, all ACMs in the building.

The process will invariably involve:

  • ‘Intrusive’ inspection – as necessary – to gain access to all areas ( including, underfloor areas, roof and other cavity spaces plus, holes being extensively drilled).

Upon completion, an asbestos demolition survey will fully detail all materials removed from the property, accompanied by certification.