Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Working with 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

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

In this Guideline

Asbestos - What is it?

Where is asbestos found in buildings?

How to identify Asbestos

Working with Asbestos

Asbestos disposal

Asbestos environmental legislation

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