Health and safety at work

Asbestos in the workplace

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 require you to take action to ensure asbestos in the workplace is managed properly and remains safe. If you control or are responsible for a non-domestic premises that was built prior to the year 2000, it may contain asbestos.
The Asbestos Regulations also include the 'duty to manage asbestos' in non-domestic premises. Detailed guidance can be found on the GOV.UK website.

The duty to manage

The duty to manage is directed at those who manage non-domestic premises: the people with responsibility for protecting others who work in such premises, or use them in other ways, from the risks to ill-health that exposure to asbestos causes.

What is the duty?

The duty to manage asbestos requires the person who has the duty (i.e. the 'duty holder') to:

  • take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in
  • presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing materials - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos
  • assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified
  • prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed
  • take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
  • periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date
  • provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them

There is also a requirement on others to co-operate as far as is necessary to allow the duty holder to comply with the above requirements.

What premises are affected?

The duty to manage covers all non-domestic premises. Such premises include all industrial, commercial or public buildings such as factories, warehouses, offices, shops, hospitals and schools.

Non-domestic premises also include those 'common' areas of certain domestic premises, such as purpose-built flats or houses converted into flats. The common areas of these premises include foyers, corridors, lifts and lift-shafts, staircases, roof spaces, gardens, yards, outhouses and garages - but would not include the individual flats themselves. Common areas do not include rooms within a private residence that are shared by more than one household, such as bathrooms, kitchens, etc., in shared houses and communal dining rooms and lounges in sheltered accommodation.

How do duty holders comply?

There are four essential steps:

  1. Find out whether the premises contains asbestos, and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in. If in doubt, materials must be presumed to contain asbestos.
  2. Assess the risk from asbestos present in the premises.
  3. Make a plan to manage that risk and act on it.
  4. Provide this information to other employers (e.g. building contractors) who are likely to disturb any asbestos present, so that they can put in place appropriate control while the work is being done.

Here are some basic principles to consider when managing asbestos

Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed. If it is safely managed and contained, it  doesn't present a health hazard.

Don't remove asbestos unnecessarily - removing it can be more dangerous than leaving it in place and managing it.

Not all asbestos materials present the same risk. The measures that need to be taken for controlling the risks from materials such as pipe insulation are different from those needed in relation to asbestos cement.

If you are unsure about whether certain materials contain asbestos, you should presume that they do and treat them as such.

Remember that the duty to manage is all about putting in place the practical steps necessary to protect maintenance workers and others from the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres - it is not about removing all asbestos.

The Approved Code of Practice for Managing Asbestos is on the GOV.UK website.

There is also a step-by-step guide which will take you through carrying out your own survey of your non-domestic premises. It is visual and easy to follow, however you will need to make several visits to complete.