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What type of asbestos survey do I need? Can I just do sampling?

Building with asbestos warning sign

‘Can I drop off some samples?’ This is not an uncommon request for us. We thought it would be useful to write a blog about the circumstances in which asbestos sampling and surveying are appropriate and the different kinds of asbestos surveys.

So, can I just bring you some samples?

Firstly, we strongly advise that no one should be taking asbestos samples unless they are trained and competent. This is because you can expose yourself and others to this very hazardous substance.

Secondly, we can’t stress this enough: Transporting suspected asbestos is extremely dangerous and should only be done using the correct containment. Wrapping in cling film, in a plastic carrier bag, or none at all is extremely dangerous to you and others.

Why is sampling usually not sufficient?

It comes down to the reason that you need the sample.

If it’s because you are doing some refurbishment, then, you need a Demolition and Refurbishment Survey. The title of that could be a little misleading as it is required whenever any major refurbishment is done on a building that is old enough to potentially contain asbestos. So, not just if you are knocking a building down.

We get requests from people who are about to strip out a wall or ceiling made of asbestos cement. The only appropriate thing to do in this case is to stop the work and get the survey done, and this will include taking samples if required. But no work can progress until the results of those samples are back from the UKAS-accredited lab.

Sampling will almost always not be sufficient to be legally compliant. We can think of a few instances in which sampling on its own is sufficient. But, importantly, the professionals carrying out such samples are not in these cases verifying the safety of the place. They are not taking the kind of responsibility that they otherwise do. When we carry out a survey, the onus is on us to find the asbestos items in the scope of works.

So, the limited cases in which a sample would be sufficient on its own are:

  • If a thorough survey has already been done and something new has been discovered that was not previously accessible. For example, a trench has been dug and there is a new potential asbestos containing material.
  • In non-regulated environments such as homes. Maybe the buyer of a home wants to be reassured about the safety of a particular item such as a textured coating or a corrugated garage roof, etc.

When is a Demolition and Refurbishment Survey required?

Whenever there is major refurbishment to a non-domestic building built before 1999 or a home built in the same period in which anyone (including a contractor / tradesperson) will work.

To do this in a compliant way, there is no template or tick-box exercise available. The scope of the survey needs to be specific to your planned work.

This survey can be intrusive and aims to locate and document all asbestos containing materials hidden or not within the scope of the survey.

Asbestos demolition surveys are fully intrusive and will access all areas to a point that it is not feasible to reoccupy an area due to the level of intrusive works needed to satisfy that there are no asbestos materials present prior to demolition.

When is a management survey required?

These go together with asbestos management plans.

All non-domestic buildings built before 1999 need an asbestos management plan. If there is no known asbestos, then the surveys proving this will need to be kept. If there are asbestos containing materials present then the plan sets out how these will be managed.

The plan will stipulate when surveys will be done, what triggers them, who is responsible, and what will be their scope. And it will set out procedures for managing any known asbestos.

The management survey is non-intrusive and will identify and document all accessible asbestos containing materials.

Do I need an asbestos management plan?

Whenever there is known asbestos in a building, it is a legal requirement to have an asbestos management plan. Simply having a survey done each year, regardless of the quality of the survey, will never make you legally compliant. Poundland recently found this out to its cost as it was fined £565,000 for one incident at a single store.

Summary

If you have a non-domestic building that was constructed pre-1999 then you have legal duties to manage the asbestos risk.

If you have a pre-1999 home then the regulations are less onerous but you will need to avoid subjecting contractors to any risks.

There is no substitute for professional advice on this from specifically qualified people.

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