Simply put, asbestos surveys are thorough inspections of various structures – including homes, businesses, and even industrial sites – to determine whether asbestos exists.
Asbestos is more likely to be found in certain structures than in others, and this can help you determine whether asbestos surveys are critical for your property.
In this guide you can discover more about surveying for asbestos, the types of survey available and ultimately how to save on the costs involved by comparing free quotes.
The acronym “ACM” stands for asbestos-containing materials. ACMs are products that may have asbestos in them or are known to contain the dangerous substance. In the UK, a “materials assessment” is another term for a survey, and this process has three very important focuses:
Surveying for ACMs is a vital part of managing, demolishing, or refurbishing a building. Asbestos is a toxin and known carcinogen, and you cannot see or smell it. For some people, the consequences of working around asbestos unprotected may take years to manifest. However, it should be noted that asbestos is only truly dangerous when there are airborne fibres present that can be inhaled. If there is asbestos in your building or facility, but it is in good condition and is not likely to be damaged or disturbed, then there is very little risk.
Certain groups of people are at a much higher risk of illness caused by asbestos than others. These include:
These individuals are at the greatest risk for asbestos exposure and injury due to the very nature of their jobs. They are often required to work in areas where asbestos was once very commonly used. However, it is important to note that this is by no means a complete list, and there are other occupations that may create asbestos exposure and therefore risk.
Despite the fact that people working in these professions often find themselves exposed to asbestos, there are some things they can do to help mitigate these risks.
Some of the most common places to find asbestos include ceiling and floor cavities, insulating board, spray-on coatings that were once used on ceilings and walls, textured coatings like those found on ceilings, old roofing felt, and asbestos cement products. In some cases, you may also find asbestos lagging, which occurs around heating systems like boilers and the pipes leading to them. This is one of the most dangerous ACMs as it easily releases breathable fibres into the air. No one should attempt to work on or remove this material outside of licensed contractors.
When it comes to the presence of asbestos, duty holders, building owners, and surveyors must first agree on the best type of survey for the inherent situation. Sometimes, these parties must also agree on where the survey should take place and what the survey should look for. There are two very different types of asbestos surveys in the UK.
When a building is slated to be demolished or completely refurbished, there is a chance that the workers involved in that process may be exposed to asbestos. In these cases, a surveyor will come to the premises and conduct a survey for two reasons. First, the surveyor will ensure that no one working on the premises will be harmed by asbestos. Second, the surveyor will ensure that only a knowledgeable and competent contractor performs the work, especially if asbestos removal is required.
During this type of survey, everyone must vacate the premises. The surveyor will conduct an inspection at this time. Once the surveyor has determined that no asbestos is present, he or she will certify the structure as “fit for reoccupation”, which allows workers to return. In the event that asbestos is found and the structure is not fit for reoccupation, the surveyor may require contractors who specialize in asbestos removal to gauge the situation and the best approach before refurbishment or demolition can continue.
Management Surveys are a bit different as they are designed to ensure that no ACM is present during normal occupation of a building, whether that building is a house, an office building, or even a factory. These surveys exist to ensure that the ACM is being handled in such a way that nobody will be harmed by it, that it is in good condition, and that it cannot be accidentally disturbed, which may make it hazardous.
If any intrusions of asbestos are discovered, the surveyor may help guide the client into obtaining the work necessary to remove or remediate the issue. Sometimes, ACM may be disturbed by normal activities, regular maintenance, or even through the removal and reinstallation of equipment. Surveys exist to limit asbestos exposure for those working or living in these buildings.
Surveyors in the United Kingdom must be accredited or certified, which helps clients feel more assured with that surveyor’s competence. Some of the qualities the best surveyor will possess include:
In the UK, surveyors are accredited by the UKAS, or the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. By visiting this website, you can find an asbestos surveyor who meets all of the above criteria. Another group called the Asbestos Builders Inspection Certification Scheme no longer exists as of 2010, but those who can demonstrate proof of completing the three-stage course in surveying are competent to carry out those surveys. Finally, the National Individual Asbestos Certification Scheme, or NIACS, once gave individuals accreditation as well. This group no longer exists. The best way to find a competent and credible surveyor is to visit the UKAS website above. The UKAS also accredits laboratories responsible for asbestos testing.
Once you have located an asbestos professional who will inspect your property, it is important to understand what the process entails. This individual will inspect each and every corner of the building, looking for any potential materials that may contain asbestos. If any potential hazards are found, surveyors will take photos and take samples that will be forwarded to laboratories for analysis. When those results come back, the building owner or duty holder will receive a report listing all the ACMs found, their locations, the photographs of those materials, and any recommendations on the best way to handle or remove the asbestos.
The surveyor will use a very precise procedure to collect the samples for testing. Usually, he or she will protect the area around the area by laying down plastic sheeting, wearing protective clothing and gear, and spraying the area that will be tested with water to prevent any particulates from breaking loose and flying away. Then, the surveyor will use a special tool to cut into the area and scrape off a sample of fibres. These samples go into a container where they cannot be contaminated, and they will be sent to a laboratory. Finally, the surveyor will “patch up” the area where the sample was collected to prevent any fibres from making their way into the air.
The surveyor will then send the samples to an accredited laboratory that specializes in testing for potentially hazardous materials, including (but not limited to) asbestos. The sample will be examined carefully under a microscope by an individual who is trained to recognize asbestos at the molecular level. Then, if the sample is positive for asbestos, the surveyor will be notified and will in turn notify you.
In the UK, you can also purchase at-home do-it-yourself asbestos testing kits. Though these can and do tell you whether or not there are ACMs in your home or other property, there are some benefits and downfalls to consider. The biggest benefit, of course, is affordability and simplicity. You can simply collect the sample yourself and then send it off to the laboratory for testing. The biggest downfall, then, is the exposure to asbestos. When you collect a sample yourself, you are taking a risk of exposing yourself, your family, your employees, or others to asbestos particles that could make them sick.
If it has been determined that ACMs must be removed in order to provide a safe living or working condition, the next step involves determining what kind of work methods are best suited for that removal. Almost every single case of asbestos removal should be handled by a contractor who is licensed by the Health and Safety Executive group. You can find a list of licensed groups and contractors on their website.
In some cases, when the work is not licensable, duty holders and building owners may be able to carry out their own work as long as there are control measures in place. In these cases, individuals may need to notify the relevant agencies of the work, list the areas where the work is being done, get the required medical examinations, and maintain health records and registers throughout the process.
The Health and Safety Executive, alongside local authorities and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) all work together to help enforce laws and regulations surrounding the use of and exposure to asbestos. Each group has its own responsibility in managing and controlling asbestos in the UK. Local Authorities, for example, are the group who enforces most everything having to do with asbestos in residences, businesses, and industrial facilities. The ORR, on the other hand, is responsible for checking depots and other railway stations.
Sometimes, the HSE may step in to oversee very large and hazardous projects. Anyone found to be in violation of these laws and regulations can view the HSE’s Enforcement Action webpage, which explains the general course of action and the consequences, which may include prosecution.
The duty to carry out asbestos surveys exists to keep people safe. Asbestos was once commonly used in buildings across the country, and while it has been banned, there are still many existing structures containing asbestos. These surveys can save countless lives.