There are three main scenarios that automatically require an asbestos survey:
- Your commercial building was constructed prior to 2000.
- You’re refurbishing or demolishing said building.
- Your local council has ordered a survey as part of your legal compliance requirements.
These three criteria are linked, because until 1999, most buildings possibly had asbestos in their flooring, plaster, gas pipes, or electrical wiring to name but a few areas. Asbestos has amazing insulation properties, so it was used in walls and floors to keep them warm and lower heating costs. In gas and electric pipes, it was helpful in preventing electric shocks and accidental fires, due to it being used successfully as a fire retardant material.
In recent times though we’re moving away from asbestos as we are now more aware of health implications relating to asbestos containing materials, and, replacing it with non asbestos containing alternatives like silica, thermoplastic, rice flour, cellulose, or plastic foam. But before you can replace any suspect asbestos items, you have to check whether it is actually present in your building, verify its exact location, and extract it in a safe, thorough, professional manner under fully controlled or semi-controlled conditions; and this is where a survey comes in.
Ordinarily, asbestos management laws apply to commercial buildings. You’re looking at where the asbestos is, what condition it’s in, and what steps are needed to be taken to keep it intact and in a safe condition (recommendations). This detailed information will be presented in an easy to read and understand, detailed comprehensive report that will need to be kept on site so it is readily available to anyone who may wish to see it, and can be easily produced on demand. The most common type of survey is a management survey. It involves visual assessment of the whole building, and should any materials have the potential to contain any asbestos materials, then a sample will need to be taken to either prove it does or does not contain it, and then the findings presented in the report, as mentioned previously. The report will also provide you, the client with recommendations of what, if anything you need to do with the positively identified materials. Just because it is found, does not necessarily mean it has to be removed. It can be managed and a written record of this kept within a management plan. As the occupier of the building you have a duty to manage any asbestos materials identified within the survey reports and as highlighted within Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012.
Refurbishment/Demolition surveys are intrusive, and an element of damage will be caused during the course of the survey being undertaken, for example it may involve pulling out parts of the wall, floor, or plumbing. So while asbestos surveys are mandatory for commercial properties, you might need one if you’re refurbishing your home bathroom or kitchen for example, or if you are carrying out any re-roofing works.
Apart from the bathroom and kitchen, other areas where asbestos might be present include boilers, lifts, garden sheds, risers, corridors, and foyers, especially in multi-story homes and flats. Older outhouses may have asbestos too, so when you instruct someone to carry out a survey on your behalf, don’t forget to include outbuildings within the remit.
The presence of asbestos isn’t an automatic write-off of the property. Asbestos is only a health risk if it is in a poor and damaged condition, and the asbestos fibres are exposed. If it is intact and undisturbed it can remain in-situ. Your specialist asbestos consultant will advise that it be monitored on a regular basis, and propose suggested dates for follow-ups because you will have to consistently re-assess its condition. With all that is involved in the management and assessment of asbestos materials remaining in-situ, you may opt to resolve the problem once and for all, and have it removed.
If you’re not in a position to replace the asbestos materials in your building, you could seal it in. This may mean painting over (encapsulating) the offending section of the property, or ‘locking it’ behind a layer of asbestos-free plaster. The risk here is asbestos could still leach underneath and you wouldn’t know it, so you’d still have to keep re-doing inspections.
Work with a trusted asbestos management firm. They can help you pick the best treatment technique, whether it’s sealing (encapsulating), removing, or leaving it as is for a few more years. Also, be wary of pricing models. If your asbestos survey was suggested by a contractor, just check that it is included within their original quote, and that a separate report will be issued.
Shopping for asbestos
With Brexit looming, if you’re in a position to grab affordable real-estate, please ensure that asbestos surveys are part of your purchase plan.
These buildings may be older properties, and they may not be in good repair. Even among the ones that have been spruced up over the years, maintenance work is not consistent. A homeowner might have installed a master en-suite, or upgraded the nursery to match their daughter’s growing tastes. But it’s unlikely they changed gas lines or ceiling insulation, and these can be prime locations to find asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
For commercial properties, they might have added shelving or cold rooms to their hangars and warehouses, but they probably tiled over the floors rather than digging up the asbestos-laced concrete foundation. So before you buy up any old buildings, have them thoroughly assessed. The lower the asking price, the more detailed your inspection should be.
In situations where the result of your asbestos survey doesn’t recommend removal, the source of asbestos might be boarded up behind a sealed platform. The idea here is to block off all the ACMs so even if they disintegrate, the fibres will be safe behind said seal. Still, follow-up surveys will be needed to maintain that status quo.
Ideally, unless you’re sure you’ve taken out every trace of asbestos, you need to re-assess asbestos levels at least once a year. Highly susceptible areas like pre-2000 building sites may need to be checked more often, because every screw and hammer risks releasing more asbestos fibres. This is why it’s so important to work with professionals who keep detailed records.
You also want an asbestos expert that gives you a feasible management plan, preferably in plain English. Some professionals try to trip you up with jargon, so you want someone willing to translate their report into terms you can understand.