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Asbestos is a naturally occurring material which became popular in the 20th century due to its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage, its sound absorption and tensile strength.  It was frequently mixed with another material and was used in over 3000 building materials. Asbestos fibres are toxic and can cause serious illness.  Asbestos fibres are present in the environment in Great Britain so people are exposed to very low levels of fibres.  However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in.  Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels could increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

There are four main diseases associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres. These are asbestosis (a scarring of the lung tissue caused by asbestos), two kinds of cancer (mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer), and diffuse pleural thickening (a non-malignant disease affecting the lung lining).

As asbestos was so widely used in the 20th century we can be confident that the majority of buildings built before 1985 probably have some asbestos in them.  Since the use of asbestos in building products was not finally prohibited until 1999 we can only be sure a property is asbestos free if it was built after 2000.

Asbestos Surveys

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, owners of non domestic buildings have the responsibility to manage asbestos in premises.  As such, asbestos surveys are carried out to comply with this legislation.  Surveys are also required before demolition or major refurbishment of any building.  There are three levels of asbestos survey and these are summarised below;

• Type 1 Asbestos Survey: Presumptive (Location and Assessment)

The purpose of the survey is to locate, as far as reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspect Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) in the building and assess their condition.  This survey essentially defers the need to sample and analyse for asbestos (or the absence there of) until a later time (e.g. prior to demolition or major refurbishment). The duty holder bears potential additional costs of management for some non-asbestos-containing materials.  All areas will be accessed and inspected as far as reasonably practicable (e.g. above false ceilings and inside risers, service ducts etc.) or must be presumed to contain asbestos.  Any material, which can reasonably be expected to contain asbestos, must be presumed to contain asbestos, and where it appears highly likely to contain asbestos, there should be a strong presumption that it does. All materials, which are presumed to contain asbestos, will be assessed.

• Type 2 Asbestos Survey: Sampling Survey (Standard Sampling, identification and assessment)

Sampling survey (Standard sampling, identification and assessment).  The purpose and procedures used in this survey are the same as for Type 1, except that representative samples are collected and analysed for the presence of asbestos.  If the material sampled is found to contain asbestos, other similar homogeneous materials used in the same way in the building can be strongly presumed to contain asbestos. Less homogeneous materials may require a greater number of samples.

• Type 3 Asbestos Survey: Pre-demolition / Major Refurbishment (Full access sampling and identification survey)

This type of survey is used to locate and describe, as far as reasonably practicable, all ACMs in the building and may involve destructive inspection, as necessary, to gain access to all areas, including those that may be difficult to reach.  A full sampling programme is undertaken to identify possible ACMs.  This survey is designed to be used as a basis for tendering the removal of ACMs from the building prior to demolition or major refurbishment, so the survey does not access the condition of the asbestos.

Asbestos Remediation / Management

There is a general belief that asbestos containing products are always releasing dangerous quantities of fibres and therefore as soon as they are recognised they should be removed and disposed of.  This would be counter productive.  When many ACM that are in good condition and are not being disturbed they will not be releasing dangerous quantities of fibres.  As soon as they are disturbed to be removed, however careful the operative is, they will release larger quantities of fibres than if the material was left alone.

The management should be based on the risk level associated with the situation, with the underlying theme being that ACM's, which are sound, undamaged and not releasing fibres, should not be disturbed; their condition should be monitored on a regular basis.

Where possible damaged materials should be repaired and then protected as necessary, provided that the repair or sealing will be durable and not likely to be disturbed.

Removal should only be performed where repair is not possible or the material is likely to be disturbed.

Removal of identified elements noted during an asbestos survey will be necessary if:

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