Something that our customers occasionally mention to us is the idea that they could take their own asbestos samples using test kits that you can buy online.
We wrote this blog to share our experience and advice on whether or not this is a good idea.
In short, you should not take your own samples and it’s not worth it. We can’t see any reason why this would be of value in any circumstances. And, there is a clear risk of serious long-term harm if you don’t use these kits exactly as intended or if they are of poor quality.
What is the issue?
Physically removing and handling asbestos is an inherently dangerous thing to do. It’s not just dangerous to the person doing it, but, if asbestos fibres escape, then anyone in the vicinity could be irreversibly harmed by the microscopic fibres.
The risk comes from the way the sampling is done and also later from the false sense of security that could be inferred from having one material sampled. Even if that sampling is done correctly, it says nothing about the other materials within the building.
The actual analysis in the lab is likely to be sound. The test kits are apparently sent to a UKAS-accredited lab. But, getting it there, documenting it correctly, and what to do next are all uncertain.
For context, see our blog about the number of asbestos deaths, which still happen every year in the UK. These should be starting to tail off any time now. But, this kind of behaviour makes it unlikely.
Where do you get asbestos testing kits?
We decided to have a look. So, we did a Google search and looked at the 11 first-page results.
- 3 Were asbestos surveying companies and health and safety consultants who also offered self-test kits.
- 4 were supplying just these kits.
- Prices ranged from £20 to £50 for a single sample kit and from £30 to £50 for sampling and analysis, with discounts for multiple samples.
Other results in our search included advice from the Health and Safety Executive and some duplicates.
One provider has close to 3,000 reviews online. If they have that many customers then there is a potential spike in asbestos-related disease coming in future decades.
What are the rules?
Whilst technically, it is not ilegal to take an asbestos sample, there are legal obligations that can easily be breached if you do so. Most importantly, your obligation is not to endanger other people.
The Health and Safety Executive seem to refer to this when they say:
If it has already broken off, you can take the sample yourself if there is no risk of spreading debris or exposing yourself to dust.’
Note they don’t encourage any intrusive sampling.
Why is it bad?
There are several reasons why you should not take your own asbestos sample.
Doing your own asbestos sampling is very dangerous
So, they send you some bags and gloves and some coveralls and a mask and a wet wipe. What about a dust sheet? What about a spray bottle for dampening more effectively to minimise fibre release? (Note ‘minimise’ rather than ‘prevent’ – it can’t be guaranteed).
How will you make good once the sample has been taken? Is the area left safe afterwards?
You could contaminate yourself or others. The result could be asbestosis or cancer.
Supply and correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
Even if PPE and a mask are provided, the sellers give a false sense of security by saying this ‘protects’ you from asbestos fibres. Like any PPE, it only protects you if you use it perfectly and nothing out of the ordinary happens – hard to ensure when you are doing something you have never done before with no training.
The use of the word ‘safe’ is mind-boggling.
One company even described supplying ‘HSE approved PPE’.
Worryingly, it is possible to get sample kits without any PPE. Two suppliers offer optional PPE and one even suggests you might need a chisel or some pliers. Scary.
This kind of sampling proves nothing meaningful
You will only get a result for that material.
Even if you do the sample correctly, you will know whether or not that material contains asbestos. So what? How many other potential asbestos containing materials are in the same room? How about across the building?
What you need is a survey that identifies all potential risks and a trained person sampling those materials that they deem necessary to sample.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Buildings are structures of many layers. You can get an asbestos coating on asbestos material. How will you deal with that?
You will not be legally compliant
For all of the above reasons and because the law is competently drafted, you will not be legally compliant by taking your own asbestos sample.
As a homeowner, your responsibility is to not expose anyone else. That includes every joiner, plumber, electrician etc who works in your home subsequently.
For managers of commercial properties, your responsibilities are to your staff and the public as well as having specific asbestos-related duties set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR 2012). We have discussed those elsewhere.
One of the things the regulations say is that a person must be trained and competent to take an asbestos sample.
What should you do instead?
You only have to spend a small amount of money to get it done properly.
Ultimately, we believe that these self-testing kits should be outlawed. In the meantime, we encourage you to not be tempted to use them.
Our advice is please don’t sample your own asbestos. Only do this if you are a qualified asbestos surveyor or analyst.
The risk is not worth it.
Get a trained and competent person to survey, sample, document, and report. Get advice from them on what you need to do to ensure safety and compliance.
We don’t say this because we want all the work. Honestly, there is enough work out there. Properties with asbestos will be abundant until long after we all retire. The point is, you are exposing yourself to serious and unnecessary risk by undertaking this activity.
So, either get our help or someone else’s. But, please get a qualified and competent person to take your asbestos samples. And the proper survey that should go with it.