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Asbestos removal for demolition sites

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Managing asbestos risks is a key part of any demolition project and principal contractors often need to call in expert help to ensure it is done safely and in compliance with all the relevant legislation.

There are a host of laws to take into account when planning demolition work, such as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007.

One other which is particularly important is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which outlines how to deal with the carcinogen without workers or members of the public being put at risk and the procedures that must be followed to avoid the possibility of prosecution.

Asbestos demolition / refurbishment surveys

Before any demolition work can be undertaken, you must commission a demolition / refurbishment asbestos survey for the site. An existing asbestos management survey is not sufficient when part of the premises is to be demolished or to undergo a major refurbishment - a demolition / refurbishment asbestos survey must be undertaken by a properly trained surveyor.

The only exception to this is if you can prove that the building contains no asbestos. Typically, this will only be possible if the premises were constructed after the use of asbestos was finally banned in 1999.

The purpose of the survey is to ensure that nobody is exposed to fibres from asbestos containing materials during the demolition, and that the right contractor is appointed to deal with the substance and has the information needed to carry out the work in the safest possible way.

To do this, the surveyor will locate and identify all asbestos containing materials in the premises. As this process will involve materials being disturbed to allow testing to be conducted, the area of the building being surveyed must be vacated and then certified fit for reoccupation before workers can return.

While the surveyor is not required to include an assessment of the condition of the asbestos in the premises in their report, they will mention any that is in a particularly dangerous state or if there is asbestos debris on site.

The survey report will allow you to establish the full extent of the asbestos removal and clean up work that needs to be undertaken, which elements of it can only be completed by a licensed contractor, what is notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW) and which parts are considered non-licensed work.

It will also allow you to commission a licensed contractor, if necessary, to arrange for the correct disposal of asbestos waste, and to draw up a schedule of work for the demolition.

Licensed asbestos removal work

By law, many asbestos removal jobs can only be completed by licensed asbestos contractors using a team of fully trained workers. Failure to use a licensed contractor is likely to trigger a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, which can lead to a prohibition notice that halts work on site and result in a prosecution.

The survey report should say which jobs are licensed work, but if you are the main contractor for the demolition job, you should check to ensure you avoid any costly and potentially dangerous oversights. As a rule of thumb, any removal job that will take more than two hours or carries a high risk will require a licensed asbestos contractor.

The official definition states that “where worker exposure to asbestos is not sporadic and of low intensity” or “where the risk assessment cannot clearly demonstrate that the control limit will not be exceeded”, the work will be licensable. All work on asbestos coating and any on asbestos insulation or insulating board that is “not short duration” will also be licensable.

That means the removal of limpet asbestos, pipe lagging, loose fill insulation and asbestos millboard requires a licensed contractor. In most circumstances, removing asbestos insulation board and cleaning up fine debris containing asbestos dust will also require a licensed specialist.

A licensed asbestos contractor will supply all the equipment needed to complete the removal work, as well as undertaking a full clean up to ensure the site is safe for other workers to carry out their jobs. They will also have a system of record keeping already in place for staff working with asbestos.

One thing to be aware of when scheduling a demolition project is the lead time needed for licensable asbestos removal jobs. The enforcing agency (typically the HSE or the local authority) needs to be notified of the work at least 14 days before it commences, but a plan of work needs to be prepared by the licensed contractor before the relevant paperwork can be submitted.

Non-licensed asbestos removal work

The survey may identify two different types of non-licensed asbestos removal work that needs to be undertaken - NNLW (which the enforcing agency must be informed of at least 14 days before commencement) and standard non-licensed work.

Work on or which disturbs the most friable forms of asbestos, with asbestos containing materials in a poor condition or which involves the destruction of its matrix is usually NNLW. Specific examples of NNLW include large-scale removal of textured decorative coatings (such as Artex), removal of small quantities of asbestos insulating board and removal of damaged asbestos cement roof sheets.

All NNLW requires properly trained staff, a significant amount of planning, risk assessments, record keeping and medical surveillance of the workers who carry it out. The correct PPE will need to be provided, along with an area for decontamination and, in many cases, facilities for air monitoring.

A good licensed asbestos removal contractor will have the appropriately trained staff, equipment and reporting infrastructure required for NNLW and can be the best choice for such work on demolition and refurbishment sites.

Standard non-licensed asbestos removal work is generally simpler tasks that carry a lower risk. It includes jobs such as removing cement roof sheets and keeping them intact, removing textured decorative coatings by taking out the whole backing board without damaging the asbestos and removing a door with asbestos fire proofing.

While the tasks themselves may be relatively straightforward, they still require a risk assessment, trained staff, relevant PPE and the implementation of appropriate controls (including restricting access to the area in which the work is being undertaken), along with a thorough clean up.

Details of the appropriate control measures for this type of non-licensed work can be found on the HSE website.

Disposal of asbestos

Once asbestos has been removed, it needs to be dealt with carefully and in line with strict regulations designed to prevent potentially deadly fibres being spread across the site or even further afield. Following best practice will keep workers and the general public safe, as well as ensure that valuable recyclable materials are not contaminated.

As well as asbestos containing materials, any other building materials and tools that cannot be decontaminated, used PPE and cleaning rags are regarded by law as ‘asbestos waste’. As such, it must be put in UN-approved packaging that displays both the CDG hazard sign and asbestos code information, double wrapped and clearly labelled as asbestos waste.

It can only be disposed of at a licensed disposal site. The local authority will provide details of which to use, but you also need to plan how to transport it to the site, as the Hazardous Waste Regulations apply to all bags that contain more than 0.1% asbestos.

You can transport it in a sealed skip or a lockable vehicle with a segregated compartment for asbestos, but you will need to complete a Waste Consignment Note and keep a copy of it for at least three years.

Alternatively, you can commission a registered hazardous waste carrier to transport it. A reputable licensed asbestos contractor should offer this along with its removal service.


BLS Asbestos is a fully licensed asbestos contractor and a registered hazardous waste carrier with vast experience of working on demolition projects across the UK. For more information about our services or to request a quote, call us on 01484 400558 or contact us via the website.

Published: 12th March 2015