Asbestos surveys - what you need to know

If you are in the construction industry you must remember the importance of surveys as part of duty holders’, employers’ and clients’ legal
responsibilities to manage the risks from asbestos.

Asbestos-containing materials

Large amounts of asbestos-containing materials were used for a wide range of construction purposes in new and refurbished buildings until 1999 when all use of asbestos was banned.

This extensive use means that there are still many buildings in Northern Ireland which contain asbestos.

Where asbestos materials are in good condition and unlikely to be
disturbed they do not present a risk. However, where the materials are in poor condition or are disturbed or damaged, asbestos fibres may be released into the air. If these fibres are breathed in they can cause
serious lung diseases, including cancers.

Workers who disturb the fabric of buildings during daily use, maintenance, refurbishment, repair, installation and related activities may be exposed to asbestos every time they unknowingly disturb or work on asbestos-containing materials without taking the correct precautions.

To prevent this exposure, information is needed on whether asbestos is, or is likely to be, present in the buildings, so that an assessment can be made
about the risk it presents and appropriate measures put in place to manage those risks.

The person responsible for managing the maintenance and repair of a non-domestic building (also called a ‘duty holder’) must manage any asbestos in it. They can use other competent people to assist them in all or part of the work to comply with their legal duties but they cannot delegate
their legal duty.

Asbestos surveys

A thorough inspection of the premises will usually take the form of an asbestos survey.

The survey has to provide sufficient information for a risk assessment, asbestos register and management plan to be prepared. The asbestos register must be available to those who plan or initiate maintenance and related work, so it can be consulted before the work begins.

The survey is likely to involve sampling and analysis to confirm the
presence or absence of asbestoscontaining materials. The type of
survey will vary during the lifespan of the premises and several may be
needed over time.

Choosing the correct type of asbestos survey is critically important.

Asbestos surveys can be classified into two types:

  • management survey
  • refurbishment/demolition survey

Management survey

A management survey which will be required during the normal occupation and use of the building to ensure continued management of the asbestos-containing materials in situ. 

A management survey aims to ensure that:

  • nobody is harmed by the continuing presence of asbestos-containing materials in the premises or equipment
  • that the asbestos-containing materials remain in good condition
  • that nobody disturbs it accidentally

The survey must locate asbestos-containing materials that could be
damaged or disturbed by normal activities, by foreseeable maintenance, or by installing new equipment, pipes or cabling for example.

Refurbishment/demolition survey

A refurbishment/demolition survey is necessary when the building (or part of it) is to be upgraded, refurbished or demolished. It aims to ensure that:

  • nobody will be harmed by work on asbestos-containing materials in the premises or equipment
  • such work will be done by the right contractor in the right way

The survey must locate and identify all asbestos-containing materials before any structural work begins at a stated location or on stated equipment at the premises. It involves destructive inspection and asbestos

The area surveyed must be vacated during the survey and certified 'fit for reoccupation' before people use it again.

Surveyors must be competent

Surveys can be carried out by inhouse personnel or a third party. In each case, the surveyor must be competent to carry out the work required. This means that the dutyholder needs to make reasonable enquiries as to whether the organisation or individual is technically competent to carry out
the survey adequately and safely. You don’t have to be an expert to get a good idea of how competent a surveyor is – ask questions, seek references and look at previous survey reports.

Inadequate surveys can have disastrous consequences resulting in contamination to people, equipment and furnishings with asbestos fibres.

The survey report

The final surveyor’s report must be clear, unambiguous and readily
accessible to those who need to use it.

Caveats should be limited, fully justifiable, agreed and documented in the report in a separate section.

Each asbestos survey report should contain as a minimum:

  • name of surveyor
  • an executive summary of the survey
  • points on scope, date and main findings 
  • overall recommendations and conclusions 
  • further actions
  • name of the laboratory carrying out analysis of samples