Asbestos Risk Management in Non-Domestic Premises

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 (CAWR), which came fully into force on May 21st 2004 following an 18 month lead-in period, is legislation that tackles the biggest occupational health killer in the UK – asbestos-related disease. Of the 3,500 people currently dying each year from such diseases, 25% have once worked in the building and maintenance trades and often would have worked unknowingly on or near to asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Whilst virtually all other activities involving potential exposure to asbestos have now ceased, evidence suggests that this vulnerable group is still at considerable risk from unknowing exposure to asbestos. The requirements of the duty on employers to seek to prevent further unknowing exposure to asbestos by building and maintenance workers with the aim of saving 5,000 lives over the next 50 years.

Duty requirements

The duty to manage requires those in control of premises to:

  • reasonable steps to determine the location and condition of materials likely to contain asbestos; 
  • presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not; 
  • make and keep an up to date record of the location and condition of the ACMs or presumed ACMs in the premises; 
  • assess the risk of the likelihood of anyone being exposed to fibres from these materials; 
  • prepare a plan setting out how the risks from the materials are to be managed; 
  • take the necessary steps to put the plan into action; 
  • review and monitor the plan periodically; and 
  • provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.

What premises are affected?

The new regulation covers all non-domestic premises, whatever type of business is carried out in them. It also covers the common areas of domestic premises, including halls, stair wells, lift shafts and roof spaces.

Who will be the dutyholder?

All those who have responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of non-domestic premises have duties under this regulation. The extent of the legal duty is determined by the terms of any tenancy agreement or contract that applies, and in the absence of any such agreement, on the degree of control the party has over the premises. The dutyholder may well be the landlord, tenant or a managing agent, depending on the circumstances of the case. In some situations, responsibility could be shared between two or more parties.

If not already done, surveys will have to be conducted to determine the location & condition of any Asbestos so that it can be recorded & labelled as such. Surveys can take the form of the following types: 1. Visual, 2. Sampling or 3. Intrusive, the last two of which require microscopic analysis, the only way to determine the presence of Asbestos. Surveys being conducted in BT are of the “Sampling” type.

What is it ?

Asbestos is a general term for a number of silicates of iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium and aluminium, which appear naturally in fibrous form. Of six basic forms, Chrysotile (White), Amosite (Brown), Crocidolite (Blue), are the most common, with fibrous anthophyllite, actinolite and tremolite not extensively encountered in the UK. Any mixture containing any of these minerals, may also be encountered and are subject to similar control. Colour should not be relied upon for identification purposes.

Where is it likely to be found ?

During the twentieth century particularly in the seventies to mid-1980’s, Asbestos was extensively used in a number of applications due to it’s ability to resist fire, acid and heat. It is also extremely hard wearing. It is typically found in use as fire or heat resistant panels, exhausts, gaskets and pipe lagging, sound insulation, arc arrestors or flash guards in fuse and switch-gear, brake shoes or pads, ducts & joint boxes, ceiling and floor tiles, decorative treatments to walls and ceiling including “Artex” type finishes.

How do I know what is Asbestos ?

The only way you can tell for sure is by analysis under a microscope. If in doubt ask for the dust or fibres to be analysed.

What are the risks to health ?

Should the condition of any Asbestos deteriorate through wear & tear, fibres can become airborne and could be inhaled. A single fibre if logged in the lungs has been known to lead to diseases such as Asbestosis, pleural plaques or thickening, lung cancer and Mesothelioma, both of which are terminal.

What are the time-scales ?

Asbestos related diseases usually develop sometime between 10 and 50 years following exposure.

What can be done about it ?

Ideally the only safe form of Asbestos is no Asbestos. Although this would mean that all existing Asbestos is removed by Licensed operators to registered land-fill sites. However, in addition to the costs involved, the risks during removal & transportation, the vast areas which will be required for the landfills, do not make this realistic in the short term.

Where can I find out more?

Asbestos at Work Regulations have been revised several times over the past decades, the most recent coming fully into effect in May 2004. BT’s policy is now covered in the Health & Handbook SFY/HSH/D055, which can be found at URL: 

Asbestos Awareness for Domestic and Customer Premises

Asbestos is a general term for a number of silicate materials, which are known to cause various diseases such as plural plaques or thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Asbestos fibres can be as small as 1/2000th the thickness of a human hair and can only be identified by analysis under a microscope and there is no known cure for asbestos related diseases, the last 3 of those above are fatal.

Up to the early 1980’s asbestos was extensively used in a number of products or substances due to its insulating abilities to resist heat, fire, noise, moisture, corrosion, acids and alkalis.

Some of the instances where you could encounter asbestos at home or at work are:

  • Fire or heat resistant panels 
  • Exhausts 
  • Gaskets 
  • Pipe lagging 
  • Sound insulation 
  • Brake shoes or pads 
  • Ducts 
  • Soffit boards 
  • Ceiling and floor tiles 
  • Some decorative treatment to walls and ceilings 

If during the course of your normal duties you come across an area or material suspected of containing asbestos this should be reported to the customer to determine if they have information on the nature of the suspect material – such as previous analysis. Where the customer is unable to provide satisfactory evidence of the nature of the suspect material you should stop work immediately and report the problem to your line manager who is required to take action to ensure the risk of exposure to BT people is removed.

Asbestos is at its most dangerous when airborne in dust form arising from abrading, breaking, drilling etc. Where your work involves cabling on, screwing into or drilling through a suspect surface, the customer should be contacted to determine if they have information on the nature of the suspect material – such as previous analysis. Where the customer is unable to provide satisfactory evidence of the nature of the suspect material an alternative route should be found.

More information can be found in BT’s Health & Safety Handbook SFY/HSH/D055, which can be found at URL:

Employers have a duty under the Asbestos Regulations to keep and maintain details of those who may have been exposed to Asbestos during their working life.

Some members when checking on their historic records held by BT in their personal files have been told that they have no records of previously recorded exposures. Whilst we are suspicious of the motives behind these statements, there are still a number of things that can be done.

Many branches may have their own archive files, which can often be useful in confirming the original records and often BT then seemed to have found the previously “lost” records.

If you wish to confirm your own records are still held by BT, or register a new exposure, in the first instance call their Health & Safety helpdesk on 0800 780783 giving your Employee Identification Number (EIN) or National Insurance Number (NINo).

Whilst some more recent information is on their database, they may have to check your personal file, which usually takes a week or two. If they then tell you they have no record contact your branch for checking any archive files they may have.

Most of the information contained in the personal files came from Building Registers during the 1970s & 1980s in particular. In more recent years BT say that details of any Asbestos in their buildings should be recorded on the Asbestos Information System (AIS) & more recently Hazard Management Information System (HMIS) both of which can be checked by calling the Building Facilities Customer Centre (BFCC) on 0800 223388.

You are strongly advised to copy and keep in a safe place any evidence obtained. Even if there is no evidence on file, this should not stop you re-registering, whether you still work for them or not, by calling direct the Health & Safety helpdesk on 0800 780783.

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