If you are responsible for maintenance and repair for non-domestic premises, you have a legal duty to manage the risk from asbestos. If tradespeople work in your building, you have a legal obligation to check for asbestos because if they disturb it, they can inhale deadly asbestos fibres that lead to fatal lung diseases. It’s still a major killer of tradespeople in Northern Ireland.
This page will help you understand your duties as defined under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 (Regulation 4).
You can also find out more in the following leaflet:
Information on the HSE (GB) website, at the link below, will help you to identify whether you are a duty holder and take you through a series of steps to help you decide if there is asbestos present and if so, how to manage it.
What is the duty?
The duty to manage asbestos is contained in Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012. It requires the person who has the duty (ie the ‘dutyholder’) 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 dutyholder to comply with the above requirements.
Who has the duty?
The dutyholder is the owner of the non-domestic premises or the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises, for example through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract.
The extent of the duty will depend on the nature of that agreement. In a building occupied by one leaseholder, the agreement might be for either the owner or leaseholder to take on the full duty for the whole building; or it might be to share the duty. In a multi-occupied building, the agreement might be that the owner takes on the full duty for the whole building. Or it might be that the duty is shared - for example, the owner takes responsibility for the common parts while the leaseholders take responsibility for the parts they occupy. Sometimes, there might be an agreement to pass the responsibilities to a managing agent.
In some cases, there may be no tenancy agreement or contract. Or, if there is, it may not specify who has responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises. In these cases, or where the premises are unoccupied, the duty is placed on whoever has control of the premises, or part of the premises. Often this will be the owner.
In public buildings, such as hospitals, schools and similar premises, the identity of the dutyholder will depend on how the responsibility for maintenance of the premises is allocated.
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 dutyholders comply?
There are four essential steps:
- 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
- assess the risk from asbestos present in the premises
- make a plan to manage that risk and act on it
- provide this information to other employers (eg 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
- 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 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
Managing asbestos - Introduction
If you are responsible for premises such as a shop or small industrial unit, you must carry out your legal duty to manage asbestos. You need to do an asbestos risk assessment and produce an asbestos management plan. They involve:
- finding out and recording where asbestos might be
- deciding what is most important
- deciding what action to take and how to plan any work
Before you begin, print the checklist at the link below. This is important as the process takes some time to complete. It will help you to note down where you are up to in your assessment.
Key points for completing the checklist
- work through the steps in order
- you won't be able to do it all at once - you will need to come back to this site as you work through the steps
- some parts take longer than others
- you don't need to be a health and safety expert
Important things to remember
- asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed - avoid unnecessary disturbance
- if unsure, presume that material contains asbestos
- the duty to manage does not require asbestos removal
- you don't always need a specialist, when you do, get a competent one (more details later in the scheme)
- if you find anything wrong while following the scheme, get help
Responsibilities of the dutyholder
If you are responsible for maintenance or repair of premises or equipment, you are the dutyholder and will need to follow the next steps. But remember this duty only applies to:
- all non-domestic premises
- the common parts of domestic premises
- boiler room, lift shaft, out-house for example
- see this list to check whether the duty applies to your premises
- table of domestic / non-domestic premises
- any equipment that may contain asbestos
If you are not responsible for maintenance or repair of premises or equipment you are not responsible for carrying out this process. You should:
- keep a record of this by printing this page and keeping it on file
- ask the person who is responsible to show you their asbestos register record
You don't need to go any further.
Year building was built
If you know for sure the building was built in or after 2000 - it is unlikely to have any asbestos.
It was built before 2000, or you are unsure, presume the building contains asbestos unless you know for sure it doesn't. In addition, see information on brownfield sites and older equipment below.
If either of these is applicable, follow the guidelines later in the page.
'Brownfield' is an area of land that was previously developed, often but not always for industrial and commercial purposes. It may be contaminated - asbestos may lie buried.
Ask your local authority planning department to find out if you are on a brownfield site.
Old equipment (pre-2000)
- insulating mats
- fire blankets
- oven gloves
- ironing surfaces
Presume that it contains asbestos.
What information is available about asbestos in the building?
Is there any existing information about asbestos in the building? You should try to collect as much information as you can about any previous asbestos record as it will help to inspect your building. Try to get a copy of any reports or plans relating to the building.
The building plans may not have any information about asbestos but a copy is useful for noting down your findings.
In addition you can:
- look for any records of previous asbestos work
- ask the previous owners or tenants of the building
- ask the facilities management company, if there is one
- ask equipment suppliers or repairers
- ask the building designer, architect or builder
Key point - take note of any previous asbestos surveys, but don’t rely on them. They might have missed asbestos materials.
Survey your building
This is known as a 'management survey'. The aim is to produce an 'asbestos register' which says where asbestos is located or where there might be asbestos.
Protect everyone with an Asbestos Register.
Small premises may include the following examples:
- trading estate unit
- office, shop
If done correctly, your own inspection is normally sufficient to make an asbestos register.
Print a blank asbestos register
Note down each material that might contain asbestos. Note how much there is and its condition (good/poor).
Where you can't get access, for example a roof void or wall cavity, presume that this contains asbestos. Note this down in the register.
When your inspection has finished, complete your asbestos register, add the date and sign it.
For larger premises (for example, more than 25 employees or more than a few workrooms) you may decide to employ a competent asbestos surveyor.
Inspecting your building
The following tips should help you inspect your building.
- copy or draw a plan of the building
- walk round and look
- get some help - a second pair of eyes is always useful
- mark on the plan what contains, or might contain asbestos
The following resources will help you inspect your building.
List of product brands containing asbestos
Find out what products might contain asbestos - this is not an exhaustive list.
Key point - Do not disturb any material that might contain asbestos.
For each entry in your asbestos register you need a material score and a priority score. If the asbestos material is in good condition, use a score of 1 for both material and priority.
If it is not in good condition use the 'Material and priority scoring tool' to get material and priority scores. Write the scores for each asbestos material in your asbestos register.
You may also want to print the results page for each material for your records.
The highest priority score shows which work to carry out first. If two items have the same priority score, go by the higher material score. In the example above that means the oven!
How to deal with asbestos
Use our checklist for managing asbestos to find out about the type of asbestos, for example:
If you are unsure get advice from an asbestos surveyor or a licensed asbestos contractor.
Write a plan
Before arranging for any work to be done you should start by writing an 'asbestos management plan'. This should include:
- who is responsible for managing asbestos
- the asbestos register you have just made
- plans for work on asbestos materials
- the schedule for monitoring the materials' condition
- telling people about your decisions
- Example asbestos management plan
The plan must say who is responsible for what. It can be written or held as a computer based record. Make it easy to read and easy to find when you, or anyone else, needs it. It must be easy to update.
- update your plan whenever work affects asbestos materials
- record your regular monitoring of the condition of asbestos materials
Testing for asbestos
If you are not planning any work, you don't need to test for asbestos. Before doing any work which may disturb asbestos materials, you must either:
- get expert help to test if asbestos is present or absent (see guidance below on types of survey, brownfield sites and old equipment)
- apply full asbestos safety precautions for the work (this is described later, in 'Getting work done' )
If you are planning work discuss your requirements with a surveyor.
Types of survey
There are different types of survey that your surveyor may recommend.
- asbestos management survey
- refurbishment/demolition survey
- having samples taken
There are specific points to consider when carrying out a survey on a brownfield site.
Old equipment (pre-2000)
There are specific points to consider when carrying out a survey on old equipment.
Key points - You will need to get expert help to carry out these tests. If not tested, materials are presumed to be asbestos. You must apply full asbestos safety precautions when doing any work.
With your asbestos management plan in place, you need to tell people about your findings and decisions. Tell your employees. Train your maintenance workers to ask about asbestos for every job.
Make sure everyone knows how to report problems so you can remedy defects. You should stick labels on anything that contains or might contain asbestos if it is located where people are likely to disturb or damage it. Get these from safety sign companies.
Warn anyone who is going to work on the fabric of your building, for example, any of the following:
- painters and decorators
- joiners, plasterers, shop fitters
- gas fitters
- phone, alarm and data-wire installers
- heating and ventilation engineers
- excavation and demolition contractors
Getting work done
Don't do it yourself. The contractor needs all the right training and equipment.
If you don't have professional tests done to confirm the presence or absence of asbestos, materials are presumed to be asbestos. You must apply full asbestos safety precautions when doing all work.
This means getting either a licensed or a trained contractor to do the work.
Is the work licensed?
Depending on the materials and type of work being done you may need to use an HSE-licensed asbestos contractor. If this is not needed you should use a contractor who is trained to deal with asbestos.
Licensed contractors need you to provide certain facilities. The Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012 apply, with a 14-day notification period before work can begin.
Employ a contractor who is trained to work with asbestos and should use methods like those in 'Asbestos essentials'.
You should always keep your records up to date. Update the asbestos register whenever you have work done on asbestos materials. Check materials at least once a year to make sure they haven't deteriorated. Check against your asbestos register and identify who is going to make these checks when, and why they are able to do the work, eg training.
Update your asbestos management plan and date it. Warn everyone - employees and contractors - to check the asbestos register whenever work may disturb asbestos materials. They must ask the manager or supervisor.
You have now completed a 'Managing my Asbestos' risk assessment. You have all the documentation necessary to fulfil your duty to manage the asbestos in your premises.
- Managing and working with asbestos ACOP L143 - HSE (GB)
- A comprehensive guide to managing asbestos in premises HSG227 - HSE (GB)
- Asbestos: The Analysts' Guide HSG248 - HSE (GB)
- Asbestos: The licensed contractors' guide - HSE (GB)
- A short guide to managing asbestos in premises - HSE (GB)
- Asbestos: The survey guide - HSE (GB)
- Beware asbestos reference cards (pdf format) - HSE (GB)
- Guide for compiling plans of work used in asbestos removal
- Table of deaths caused, or contributed to, by asbestos related diseases 2009-2021
HSE priced and free publications
Available from HSE Books website or Tel: 01787 881165