Asbestos removal for refurbishment projects

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The management of asbestos risks is a key health and safety consideration in any refurbishment project, and those commissioning and managing the work need to be aware of all the relevant legislation and working practices.

In addition to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015, commercial clients, principal contractors and subcontractors also have to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Sticking strictly to the guidelines is the best way to prevent workers and members of the public being exposed to asbestos and the risk of developing the fatal cancer mesothelioma as a result. It will also ensure you avoid the costs and delays of an investigation and possible prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Asbestos refurbishment surveys

If the work is being carried out for a business (a definition that includes individuals acting as property developers), the client must commission a refurbishment asbestos survey before the project can begin. An existing asbestos management survey is not sufficient for the purpose of a renovation job.

The only exception is for buildings that definitely do not contain any asbestos; typically only those that were originally constructed after the substance’s use was prohibited in 1999.

The purpose of the survey is to identify whether asbestos is present and if so, where it is located and what condition it is in. A properly trained surveyor must be used to undertake the asbestos survey, as extensive expertise is required to do the job correctly.

There are many different locations in the fabric of the building that need to be checked, as asbestos was used in everything from insulation, roofing and cladding to ceiling / floor tiles and wall coverings.

Asbestos cannot always be identified by eye, so sampling and destructive testing often need to be carried out as part of the survey. A professional surveyor will know which safety precautions have to be followed during the testing and may need to organise for the building to be vacated while the survey and subsequent clean-up are carried out.

The results of the survey must be passed to the principal contractor and every other contractor to help them plan their work safely. However, before the work is undertaken, you need to develop an overall strategy for dealing with any asbestos that is present.

What if the surveyor finds asbestos containing materials?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 clearly state what the preferred course of action is in the event that the surveyor identifies the substance in the building that is to be renovated.

“In cases of final demolition or major refurbishment of premises, the plan of work must, so far as is reasonably practicable, specify that asbestos must be removed before any other major works begin, unless removal would cause a greater risk to employees than if the asbestos had been left in place.”

Asbestos should be removed ahead of refurbishment work

While the primary concern of the stipulation is to safeguard workers while the project is taking place, removing the asbestos has long-term safety benefits. For example, day-to-day maintenance jobs will be able to be completed without having to worry about managing asbestos risks.

A reputable licensed asbestos contractor will be able to advise you of how best to safely remove and dispose of any asbestos containing materials and how to clean up afterwards.

Work with asbestos is split into three categories - licensed, notifiable non-licensed (NNLW) and non-licensed - dependent on the type of material involved, how it has been used and the risk it poses to workers. The survey should make it clear what type of work needs to be undertaken at your refurbishment site.

As the name suggests, licensed asbestos removal work can only legally be carried out by licensed contractors using trained staff and specialist equipment. Using an unlicensed contractor or trying to do it yourself is likely to lead to prosecution and may also result in asbestos fibres being disturbed.

Almost all high-risk jobs are licensed work, including the removal of asbestos coatings, insulation and insulating board, limpet asbestos, pipe lagging and millboard. Similarly, any cleaning work that involves fine debris likely to contain asbestos requires a licensed contractor.

You will need to schedule any licensed work carefully, as a plan of work needs to be prepared and submitted to the enforcing authority (usually the HSE or local authority) at least 14 days before it commences.

A licensed asbestos contractor will have all the equipment required for safe removal, air testing and full clean-ups to ensure the site is left safe for workers. Because of this, many principal contractors use them for all asbestos removal work, whether or not the job is licensed.

While NNLW is lower risk, it still requires knowledge of procedures, trained staff, specialist equipment and PPE, extensive control measures, medical record keeping and a thorough post removal clean-up. Again, the enforcing agency must be informed at least 14 days before the work is carried out.

NNLW includes jobs that disturb the most friable forms of asbestos, that involve working with materials in a poor condition or that require the destruction of its matrix. Removal of Artex and similar decorative coatings, damaged asbestos cement sheets and small quantities of asbestos insulating board are among the jobs considered to be NNLW.

Types of standard non-licensed work include the removal of intact cement roof sheets, a door with asbestos fire-proofing and entire backing boards covered in textured decorative coatings. While they may appear to be simple tasks, they still require risk assessments, PPE, trained staff and appropriate control measures.

A good licensed asbestos contractor will have the right staff and equipment to do the job properly and in compliance with all relevant legislation. They should also be able to organise the transport of all asbestos containing materials, any contaminated materials and used PPE to a licensed disposal site by a registered hazardous waste carrier, and handle all the associated paperwork.


BLS Asbestos is a fully licensed asbestos contractor and registered hazardous waste carrier with extensive experience of working on refurbishment sites of all sizes. For more information about our services or to request a quote, call us on 01484 400558 or contact us via the website.

Published: 12th August 2015