Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Asbestos

Asbestos is a hazardous material and its fibres can be very damaging to human health and the environment. As it does not break down easily, it also remains in the environment for a long time.

Large amounts of asbestos-containing materials were used for a wide range of construction purposes in new and refurbished buildings until 1999 when the use of asbestos was banned. Asbestos may be found in the floor, wall, ceiling or roofing materials of any building built or refurbished before 2000, or in contaminated soils.

You may have to comply with legal duties relating to asbestos if you own or operate a building, if you work in construction, demolition or building maintenance, or if you dispose of asbestos waste.

This guide describes how to comply with asbestos legislation that relates to environmental management. It explains how to identify asbestos and gives information on working with and disposing of asbestos.

Additional resources

  

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of long, thin, crystalline fibres. There are six types of asbestos:

  • white asbestos (also called chrysotile or serpentine)
  • brown asbestos (also called amosite or grunerite)
  • blue asbestos (also called crocidolite or riebeckite)
  • anthophyllite
  • tremolite
  • actinolite.

Large amounts of asbestos-containing materials were used for a wide range of construction purposes in new and refurbished buildings until 1999 when the use of asbestos was banned. There are still many buildings which contain asbestos. See the page in this guideline: Where is asbestos found in buildings?

Diseases caused by asbestos

Where asbestos materials are in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed they do not present a risk. However, where the materials are in poor condition, or are disturbed or damaged, asbestos fibres are released into the air. If breathed in, these fibres can cause serious lung diseases including:

  • mesothelioma
  • lung cancer
  • asbestosis.

People most at risk from exposure to asbestos are those who are liable to disturb it during their daily work. This includes the main construction trades and maintenance workers, such as electricians, joiners, plasterers, roofers, heating and ventilation engineers and surveyors.

Ban on using asbestos

Due to its hazardous nature, importing, supplying and using all types of asbestos has been banned since 1999, with only a few specific exceptions.

While the new use of asbestos is banned, asbestos products that were installed before the ban can remain in place. You must manage and maintain any existing asbestos products in a safe condition to ensure they do not cause a danger to human health or the environment. See the page in this guideline: Working with asbestos.

Further information

HSE: Asbestos health and safety guidance

HSE: Asbestos management advice (PDF, 229K)

HSENI: Asbestos guidance

HSE: Interactive lesson - apprentices at risk from asbestos

Scotland: Healthy working lives - asbestos

Asbestos-containing materials were used until 1999 for a wide range of construction purposes in new and refurbished buildings including the following:

  • sprayed asbestos and loose asbestos packing were used as fire breaks in ceiling voids
  • hand moulded or pre-formed coatings and lagging were used as thermal insulation for pipes and boilers
  • sprayed asbestos and asbestos in a cement matrix were used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steel work
  • sprayed asbestos and board materials were used for sound proofing in walls and ceilings, usually as a coating or as tiles
  • asbestos cement products included corrugated roofing sheets, corrugated sheets for wall cladding, gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks
  • millboard, paper and paper products containing asbestos were used for the insulation of electrical equipment, and as sandwich or backing materials - eg on wood veneers or linoleum
  • asbestos fibres were woven into ropes and cloths - eg fire blankets and heat resistant gloves
  • asbestos was used in textured coating, decorative plasters and paints - eg 'Artex' type finishes and cornices

HSE: Where can you find asbestos?

Asbestos was commonly used in construction and building maintenance from the 1940s to the 1990s. Any building built or refurbished before 2000 could contain asbestos. See the page in this guideline: where is asbestos found in buildings?

If you are responsible for maintaining all or part of a business premises you must also manage any asbestos in the premises. The purpose of this is to prevent or, where this is not reasonably possible, minimise exposure. You should:

  • establish whether the buildings contain asbestos and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in - if in doubt you must presume that materials contain asbestos
  • assess the risk
  • make a plan to manage that risk and act on it.

Asbestos surveys

To identify potential asbestos materials in the building you may have to undertake an asbestos survey. The purpose of an asbestos survey is to:

  • help manage asbestos in your premises
  • provide accurate information on the location, amount and condition of asbestos-containing materials
  • assess the level of damage or deterioration and whether remedial action is required
  • use the survey information to prepare a record of the location of any asbestos, commonly called an asbestos register, and an asbestos plan of the building
  • help identify all asbestos materials to be removed before refurbishment work or demolition
  • establish a management plan to manage the risks from asbestos materials.

You may be able to conduct an in-house survey or you may need to employ an accredited specialist. You must make sure that the person conducting the survey has the correct experience and training, and they must conduct the survey in accordance with Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

HSE: Asbestos surveys

If you are in rented or shared premises you need to check whether you are responsible for obtaining this information. The person responsible may be the leaseholder or the owner, it may be shared between a number of leaseholders or it may pass to a managing agent. Check your tenancy agreement or contract to see if you are responsible for the maintenance and repair of your premises.

Building maintenance

If you are planning any maintenance or demolition work at your own premises, you will need to carry out an asbestos survey to locate and identify any materials containing asbestos. By identifying asbestos materials early in the project you can reduce the potential for delays and increased costs later.

If you are a maintenance, demolition or construction contractor, the owner or occupier of any building that you work on must supply you with detailed information on the location, type and condition of asbestos-containing materials within the structure of the building that may be hazardous to you or your employees' health or welfare.

If you work on the fabric of a building and are at risk of disturbing asbestos you must make sure that you and your employees are able to identify asbestos in case you find it unexpectedly. You must ensure that any worker who is likely to disturb asbestos materials as part of their work activities has received appropriate asbestos awareness training.

HSE: Asbestos training and industry standards

Further information

HSE: Where can you find asbestos?

HSE: Asbestos surveys

HSE: Asbestos training and industry standards

Asbestos was commonly used in construction and building maintenance from the 1940s to the 1990s. Any building built or refurbished before 2000 could contain asbestos. See the page in this guideline: where is asbestos found in buildings?

If you are responsible for maintaining all or part of a business premises you must also manage any asbestos in the premises. The purpose of this is to prevent or, where this is not reasonably possible, minimise exposure. You should:

  • establish whether the buildings contain asbestos and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in - if in doubt you must presume that materials contain asbestos
  • assess the risk
  • make a plan to manage that risk and act on it.

Asbestos surveys

To identify potential asbestos materials in the building you may have to undertake an asbestos survey. The purpose of an asbestos survey is to:

  • help manage asbestos in your premises
  • provide accurate information on the location, amount and condition of asbestos-containing materials
  • assess the level of damage or deterioration and whether remedial action is required
  • use the survey information to prepare a record of the location of any asbestos, commonly called an asbestos register, and an asbestos plan of the building
  • help identify all asbestos materials to be removed before refurbishment work or demolition
  • establish a management plan to manage the risks from asbestos materials.

You may be able to conduct an in-house survey or you may need to employ an accredited specialist. You must make sure that the person conducting the survey has the correct experience and training, and they must conduct the survey in accordance with Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

HSE: Asbestos surveys

If you are in rented or shared premises you need to check whether you are responsible for obtaining this information. The person responsible may be the leaseholder or the owner, it may be shared between a number of leaseholders or it may pass to a managing agent. Check your tenancy agreement or contract to see if you are responsible for the maintenance and repair of your premises.

Building maintenance

If you are planning any maintenance or demolition work at your own premises, you will need to carry out an asbestos survey to locate and identify any materials containing asbestos. By identifying asbestos materials early in the project you can reduce the potential for delays and increased costs later.

If you are a maintenance, demolition or construction contractor, the owner or occupier of any building that you work on must supply you with detailed information on the location, type and condition of asbestos-containing materials within the structure of the building that may be hazardous to you or your employees' health or welfare.

If you work on the fabric of a building and are at risk of disturbing asbestos you must make sure that you and your employees are able to identify asbestos in case you find it unexpectedly. You must ensure that any worker who is likely to disturb asbestos materials as part of their work activities has received appropriate asbestos awareness training.

HSE: Asbestos training and industry standards

Further information

HSE: Where can you find asbestos?

HSE: Asbestos surveys

HSE: Asbestos training and industry standards

The majority of work with asbestos must be carried out by a licensed contractor. If you do not have an asbestos licence, you can only carry out non-licensed work yourself if you are properly trained and have the right equipment.

In non-domestic buildings you have a right to be given information about the condition and location of asbestos by the person who manages the building before you start work. You must pass this information on to anyone working for you on the job. You should ask for this information when tendering or quoting for work - it will help you cost the job correctly and plan the work safely, preventing potentially expensive surprises on site.

Before you start work

Before you start work on any building constructed before the year 2000, check that all employees and contractors on site know about any materials that have been identified as containing asbestos. Provide information about the location and condition of any asbestos to every person who could disturb it. Don't start work if:

  • you're not sure if there is asbestos where you're working
  • the asbestos materials are sprayed coatings, board or insulation, or lagging on pipes and boilers - only licensed contractors should work on these
  • you have not been trained to do non-licensed work with asbestos - basic awareness training is not enough.

You should make sure that your employees and contractors know how to identify asbestos and know what to do if they find it unexpectedly.

HSE: Asbestos image gallery

If you find asbestos

If you come into contact with any materials that you suspect contain asbestos, including hidden materials or dust, you should stop work immediately and leave the area. If you are unsure whether a material contains asbestos, you should assume that the material does contain it until you are sure that it does not.

You should only continue to work if:

  • the work has been properly planned and the right precautions are in place, eg you have the right equipment
  • the materials are asbestos cement, textured coatings and certain other materials which do not need a licence
  • you have had training in asbestos work and know how to work with it safely.

Asbestos only becomes a danger when fibres are airborne. Do not break or damage any material that may contain asbestos. You should only take samples if you are suitably trained.

If you need to work with asbestos, make sure that you:

  • use hand tools, not power tools
  • keep materials damp, not too wet
  • wear a properly fitted, suitable mask, eg disposable FFP3 type - an ordinary dust mask won't be effective
  • don't smoke, eat or drink in the work area
  • double-bag asbestos waste and label the bags properly
  • clean up as you go by using a special (Class H) vacuum cleaner, not a brush
  • after work, wipe down your overalls with a damp rag or wear disposable overalls (Type 5)
  • always remove overalls before removing your mask
  • don't take overalls home to wash
  • wear boots without laces or disposable boot covers
  • put disposable clothing items in asbestos waste bags and dispose of them properly
  • don't carry asbestos into your car or home.

HSE: Guidance sheets for non-licensed asbestos work

Reduce the spread of asbestos

If you are working with asbestos or carrying out work which may disturb asbestos, you must prevent, or reduce as far as possible, the asbestos spreading.

During any work, you must make sure that the area and the equipment being used for the work are kept clean. Once work involving asbestos has finished, you must make sure the area where the work was carried out is thoroughly cleaned.

Leave asbestos materials in place

If the materials are in good condition and are unlikely to be damaged or disturbed, you should leave them in place. You must make sure the materials are properly maintained and you must monitor their condition. You should also label these materials with the asbestos warning label so that they can be easily identified.

Further information

HSE: Asbestos licensing information

HSE: Asbestos – the hidden killer campaign

HSE: Guidance sheets for non-licensed asbestos work

HSE: Asbestos image gallery

Asbestos is hazardous and carcinogenic (a cancer-causing material). It can be very damaging to human health and the environment. It does not break down easily and remains in the environment for a long time.

What you must do

Hazardous/special waste

Waste containing more than 0.1 per cent asbestos is classed as hazardous/special waste. You must deal with this waste as hazardous/special waste.

Any waste that contains asbestos, or is contaminated with asbestos, must be double-bagged and placed in a covered, locked skip. This includes overalls, over-shoes, sampling wastes and respiratory protection equipment that have come into contact with asbestos.

If you have any personal protective equipment (PPE) that is contaminated with asbestos, you must dispose of it as asbestos waste or clean it at a suitably equipped facility. If personal clothing becomes contaminated, you must treat it in the same way as contaminated PPE.

If you send equipment away to be cleaned, or to be reused or disposed of, it must be packed in a suitable container and properly labelled.

You must not mix asbestos waste with other types of waste.

If you have large asbestos sheets you should not break them up. Instead, wrap them in polythene sheeting and label them.

Labelling asbestos items

You must clearly label raw asbestos and asbestos waste with the asbestos warning label. The label must be either firmly stuck to or directly printed onto the item or its packaging.

Licensed contractors who dispose of asbestos-contaminated materials use red, thick plastic sacks with asbestos warnings printed on the outside.

Storing and transporting asbestos waste

You must store and transport raw asbestos and asbestos waste in a sealed container such as a covered, locked skip or, if more appropriate, within sealed wrapping. It must be clearly marked with the asbestos warning label to show that it contains asbestos.

If you transport asbestos waste you must comply with the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations. These include requirements for packaging and documentation.

HSE: Packaging and documentation for asbestos waste

Asbestos disposal sites

You must check that the site receiving your asbestos waste is authorised to receive asbestos. They should have a waste management licence or pollution prevent and control (PPC) permit.

Find your nearest waste site

Asbestos waste must be disposed of in a landfill that has a specific permit authorising it to accept asbestos. You may be able to dispose of asbestos waste in a non-hazardous waste landfill, provided it is landfilled within a separate, self-contained cell.

Equipment containing asbestos

You may have old equipment that contains asbestos, such as ovens, insulating mats, fire blankets, oven gloves or ironing surfaces. Asbestos can also be found in some old brake pads and clutch linings of vehicles. When you dispose of this equipment you will need to dispose of it as asbestos waste.

Asbestos-contaminated soil

Asbestos-contaminated soil can be created by mixing clean soil with demolition rubble, through poor housekeeping at industrial sites or through poor waste disposal practices. You must store asbestos waste securely to avoid it spreading and causing contamination.

Soil or other waste material that is contaminated with asbestos, or items containing asbestos, is classed as hazardous/special waste. You will need to dispose of it as hazardous/special waste.

Asbestos pipes

Old asbestos cement pipes remain the property of the water company. The water company should keep records of the location and condition of old asbestos cement pipes.

You should check with your water company before working where old pipes may remain buried. If you or the water company break into old asbestos cement pipes, the fragments of broken pipe and contaminated soil must be removed and dealt with as hazardous/special waste.

 

Further information

Find your nearest waste site

HSE: Packaging and documentation for asbestos waste

SEPA: Disposal of asbestos waste to landfill

This page provides links to the full text of key pieces of environmental legislation relating to asbestos. The websites hosting the legislation may list amendments separately.

If you are setting up an environmental management system (EMS) for your business, you can use this list to start compiling your legal register. Your legal adviser or environmental consultant will be able to tell you if other environmental legislation applies to your specific business.

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Northern Ireland asbestos legislation

Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2010/160 Revoke and replace SR 2006/173. They regulate the carrying of dangerous goods by road and rail and, to an extent, by inland waterway. These regulations also cover the use of transportable pressure equipment.

Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2011/365 Amends 2010/160 to help implement EU Directive 2010/35 on transportable pressure equipment. Updates technical provisions, conformity requirements and responsibilities of operators, in order to improve safety and ensure free movement of transportable pressure equipment.

Control of Asbestos Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2012/179 Revoke and replace SR 2007/31 with some modifications so that there is a consolidated set of Asbestos Regulations. The regulations ban the import, supply and new use of asbestos. Regulations require employers to assess risks and limit employees’ exposure. They also require employers to have the correct licence before working with asbestos and to ensure that their employees have proper training.

Scotland – Asbestos legislation

Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations (SI 2009/1348). Regulates the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail and inland waterways and the use of pressurised cylinders, drums and other equipment.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 SI 632 These revoke and re-enact the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, with some modifications so that there is a consolidated set of Asbestos Regulations. The regulations ban the import, supply and new use of asbestos. They require employers to assess risks and limit employees' exposure. They also require employers to have the correct licence before working with asbestos and to ensure that their employees have proper training.

You will also need to know about and comply with legislation on:

Duty of care – your waste responsibilities

Hazardous/special waste

You can keep up to date with all environmental legislation on NetRegs:

NetRegs legislation

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