Knowledge Centre


How to Manage Asbestos in the Workplace


If you own, occupy, manage or have responsibilities for non-domestic premises which may contain asbestos, you have a legal duty to manage the risk or to fully co-operate with whoever manages that risk on your behalf.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos related diseases, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining. Asbestos is only a risk to health if asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Past exposure to asbestos currently kills 3000 people a year in the UK which is more than all other occupational fatalities combined and greater than road traffic accidents. This number is expected to go on rising for the next ten years. There is no cure for asbestos-related diseases.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who uses your premises, who disturbs asbestos that has deteriorated or been damaged and is releasing fibres, can be at risk. In fact, anyone whose work involves drilling, sawing or cutting into the fabric of premises could potentially be at risk. They may all breathe in asbestos fibres during their day-to-day work.

All you need to know about the duty to manage asbestos

The duty to manage asbestos has been added to the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. It applies to you if you have maintenance and repair responsibilities for non-domestic premises either through a contract or tenancy agreement or because you own the premises.

The duty requires you to manage the risk from asbestos by:

  • Finding out if there is asbestos in the premises, its amount and what condition it is in

  • Presuming materials contain asbestos, unless you have strong evidence that they do not

  • Making and keeping up to date records of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing material (ACM) or presumed ACMs 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

  • Providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it.

Assess the condition of any ACMs

The type of ACM, the amount of it and its condition will determine its potential to release asbestos fibres into the air, if disturbed. The condition of ACMs can be considered by addressing a series of questions:

  • Is the surface of the material damaged, frayed or scratched?

  • Are the surface sealants peeling or breaking off?

  • Is the material becoming detached from its base? (this is a particular problem with pipe and boiler lagging and sprayed coatings)

  • Are protective coverings, designed to protect the material, missing or damaged?

  • Is there asbestos dust or debris from damage near the material? If the asbestos-containing materials in your premises are in poor condition you will have to arrange repairs or have them sealed, enclosed or removed.

Take appropriate action

Managing asbestos left in place - If you decide to leave in place ACMs that are in good condition, make a note of where they are on your drawing or other records and keep this information up to date.

Setting up a register of the location and condition of ACMs in buildings is a good idea, but be aware that some hidden asbestos may also be present.

You must make sure that everyone who needs to know about the asbestos is effectively alerted to its presence. You can label ACMs clearly with the asbestos warning sign or use some other warning system.

If you decide not to label the asbestos, you need to make sure that those who might work on the material know that it contains or may contain asbestos. You will need to introduce a method that will ensure anyone who comes to carry out work on the premises does not start before they are given the relevant information on any asbestos present. For example, a permit-to-work system, where you control access to the premises and only allow people in with a permit, would be one suitable method.

This means that no one can work on the premises, unless they have a permit from you or a nominated employee, so you know what they are working on and where to prevent asbestos being accidentally disturbed.  It can save time and prevent confusion if you make a note of the location of non-asbestos material which could be mistaken for asbestos.

If asbestos is likely to be disturbed during routine maintenance work or daily use of the building it will release fibres. If it cannot be easily repaired and protected, you should have it removed immediately.

This work must be carried out by someone trained and competent to carry out the task. Remember most work on asbestos insulation, asbestos insulating board and lagging, including sealing and removal, should normally be done by a contractor licensed by the Health and Safety Executive.

Keep communication open and transparent

This requires that you make information on the location and condition of the asbestos available to anyone liable to work on it or disturb it. 

Make sure that employees involved in building maintenance work and any contractors working on the premises know that the building contains or may contain asbestos.

You should also tell them where it is and make sure they know there are potential risks to their health if they disturb it.

You may also need to tell anyone installing telephones, computers or any electrical equipment, as they also may disturb asbestos. Make them all aware of the drawing or record showing where the ACM is and the possibility of coming across hidden ACMs which might not be recorded.

If employees or contractors do have to work on materials containing asbestos, you must make sure that they know they are working with asbestos and what precautions they should take.

Make sure that they:

  • Keep everyone out of the work area who does not need to be there

  • Take care not to create dust

  • Keep the material wet, whenever possible

  • Wear a suitable respirator and protective clothing

  • Clean up with a vacuum cleaner which complies with BS 5415 (Type ‘H’).

    Make sure they don't:

  • Break up large pieces of asbestos materials

  • Use high-speed power tools - they create high levels of dust

  • Expose other workers who are not protected

  • Take protective clothing home to wash. The HSE’s guidance Asbestos essentials task manual (HSG210) provides advice on working safely with asbestos for people carrying out maintenance or similar work.

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