Managing and working with asbestos

This information will be of particular interest to employers, asbestos contractors and others with duties under asbestos regulations, together with those workers currently at greatest risk from exposure to asbestos.

The importation, supply and use of all forms of asbestos are banned. However, many buildings, and some plant and equipment, still contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

Before you start any work in a building that might contain asbestos (e.g. built or refurbished before the year 2000), you need to do the following:

Identify whether asbestos is present and determine its type and condition

  • People responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises, have a 'duty to manage' the asbestos in them, and should provide you with information on where any asbestos is in the building and what condition it is in.
  • If no information is available or it is limited and you suspect asbestos may be present you should have the area surveyed and representative samples of the material you are going to work on analysed.
  • Alternatively, you can assume that any material you need to disturb does contain asbestos and take the appropriate precautions for the highest risk situation.

Carry out a risk assessment

  • Decide if its possible to carry out the building or maintenance work avoiding the risk of asbestos exposure all together.
  • If that's not possible, identify who might be at risk and the level of possible asbestos exposure from any work.
  • On this basis, decide what work methods are necessary to provide effective control of the risks.
  • Further information on carrying out a risk assessment is available.

Decide if the work needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor

  • Most asbestos removal work will require a contractor holding a licence from HSE.
  • All work with sprayed asbestos coatings and asbestos lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board (AIB) requires a licence.
  • Identify if your work needs a licensed contractor;
  • Find a licensed contractor, or find out how to apply for a licence.

If the work is not licensable, decide if the work needs to be notified

  • If it doesn't need a licence, you can do maintenance work on or around ACMs with the appropriate controls in place.
  • Some non-licensed work also has additional requirements, ie notification of work, medical surveillance and record keeping. This work is known as notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW)

Ensure those carrying out the work are suitably trained

  • Any worker who is liable to disturb asbestos during their day-to-day work needs to receive appropriate training to enable them to protect themselves and others.

Working safely with asbestos

Make sure you work safely by taking appropriate precautions when carrying out any work that could disturb asbestos.

Do:

  • stop work and speak to your employer, or the building owner if you are suspicious something may be asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor
  • follow the plan of work and the essentials guidance sheets; make sure you use the right sheet for the job
  • make sure you take account of other risks such as work at height
  • use your protective equipment, including a suitable face mask, worn properly
  • clean up as you go - stop waste building up
  • make sure waste is double-bagged and is disposed of properly  [PDF]  at a licensed tip
  • wash before breaks and before going home
  • check whether the work should be notified
  • make sure you have had adequate training before you start work

Don't:

  • use methods that create a lot of dust, like using power tools
  • sweep up dust and debris - use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags
  • take home overalls used for asbestos work
  • reuse disposable clothing or masks
  • smoke
  • eat or drink in the work area

What should those in charge of the job do?

They must:

  • find out if asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials if possible
  • ensure that anyone who is going to work on asbestos material has had appropriate information, instruction and training and is supervised
  • know what work can be carried out on asbestos-containing materials, ie does this work need to be carried out by a licensed contractor
  • take account of other risks as well as asbestos, eg work at height, and take the precautions necessary to do the job safely
  • use the equipment and method sheets and the right task sheet to make sure that the job is carried out properly and that exposure to asbestos is kept as low as possible
  • prepare a plan of work, explaining what the job involves, the work procedures, and what controls to use
  • provide you with the right equipment, which is clean, in good working order, and protects you against asbestos
  • train you in using this equipment
  • make sure the work area is inspected visually at the end of the job, to check it's fit for reoccupation
  • make arrangements for the safe disposal of any asbestos waste
  • consult the health and safety representative (if there is one)

What does the law require?

There are a number of sets of regulations, which cover work with all types of asbestos-containing material; they place duties on 'dutyholders', employers and the self employed. A quick summary of these regulations can be found in the asbestos regulations section of this website.

Risk assessments

Before starting any work that is likely to disturb asbestos, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment must be prepared by the employer.

Whoever carries out the risk assessment must:

  • be competent to do the risk assessment
  • carry it out before work begins and allow enough time to put appropriate precautions in place
  • make sure the assessment is job specific and considers all aspects of the work

Risk assessments are about identifying and controlling the risks:

  • establish the potential risk (including general risk such as falls from height) and identify who may be affected
  • identify the action to be taken to remove the risk, or if that is not possible, to reduce the risk to as low as possible
  • record the findings of the risk assessment, and the action to be taken, and inform employees
  • implement the actions to be taken
  • review and update the risk assessment as required

Competency

Whoever carries out the risk assessment must have a sufficient level of knowledge, training and expertise. This is to make sure that they understand the risks from asbestos (and general risks) to enable them to make informed decisions about the risks and identify the appropriate action required to reduce them.  They will also need to be able to estimate the expected level of exposure to help them decide whether or not the control limit is likely to be exceeded.

Content of the risk assessment

A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should include full details of the work to be undertaken and how long the work is expected to take. It should also include:

  • details of the type and quantity of the asbestos
  • details of the expected level of exposure
  • details of the controls to be used to reduce exposure eg use of local exhaust ventilation, controlled wetting, adequate PPE / RPE use of enclosures
  • decontamination procedures for tools, equipment and PPE
  • details on how asbestos waste will be managed
  • emergency procedures

The findings of the assessment should be communicated to employees, and anybody else who could be affected.  A copy of the risk assessment must be available on site.

Asbestos essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work with asbestos. These sheets can be used to form an important part of the risk assessment if they match the work you are doing.

More information

If you wish to find out more please call HSENI's free helpline:

  • 0800 0320 121

Resources

Legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.