Asbestos management for hospitals

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The management of asbestos risks is a key safety issue in hospitals, as many of them were constructed or extensively renovated during the period when asbestos was a common building material in the UK.

Any hospital built between 1950 and 1985 will almost certainly contain the carcinogen in some form, while those constructed from 1986 until the use of asbestos was finally banned in 1999 may also have the substance.

While the presence of intact asbestos does not pose a risk to staff and the public, it is all too easy for items that contain the substance to fall into disrepair or for fibres to be disturbed by workmen - unless the correct asbestos management procedures are followed.

Asbestos lagging was commonly used on pipes.

Hospitals have the same legal duty to manage asbestos risks as businesses, commercial property owners and those in charge of other public buildings.

Failure to fulfil that duty is likely to result in prosecution, as West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Greater Glasgow Health Board have both discovered, although the greater concern is the risk that a staff member, patient or visitor could develop mesothelioma or lung cancer as a result of being exposed to asbestos fibres.

The starting point for any asbestos management plan is to undertake asbestos surveys for all areas of all hospital buildings. This will allow the location, type and condition of all asbestos containing materials to be recorded.

Asbestos can be found in ceiling tiles

The list may be surprisingly long, as asbestos was used in a huge variety of building materials, including insulating boards, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, roofing, Artex, sprayed coatings, lagging, loose-fill insulation, water tanks, fire blankets and even toilet cisterns.

Once the presence of the substance has been established, the risk of exposure can be assessed and, if necessary, a licensed asbestos removal contractor can be called in to remove and dispose of the most problematic materials and encapsulate some of the others.

The hospital’s asbestos management plan should also include guidance on how to deal with risks from the substance in the long-term and establish a monitoring regime to ensure regular checks are made on the condition of asbestos containing materials. If the condition deteriorates, it is likely that a licensed asbestos removal contractor will be required to remedy the situation.

A copy of the original asbestos survey should be made available to both hospital maintenance staff and to maintenance contractors to allow them to plan their work in a way that will not disturb the substance.

However, if any major work is planned for the hospital buildings, a separate asbestos refurbishment and demolition survey should be undertaken by a fully trained specialist before it commences. This will help to plan the work so that it is carried out in a way that ensures nobody is exposed to asbestos.

Some NHS trusts now take the view that asbestos should be removed whenever the opportunity arises to do so safely, in order to avoid any future problems. That usually involves a licensed asbestos removal and disposal contractor being hired to make the area safe before the refurbishment or structural work begins.

If you have any queries about asbestos surveys, removal and management for hospitals, please call BLS Asbestos on 01484 400558 or contact us via the website.

BLS Asbestos is a long-established licensed asbestos removal contractor with extensive experience of public sector work, including healthcare, education and government buildings.

Published: 26th November 2014