Asbestos Risk Facing Installers

More than 4,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of  exposure to asbestos. Those installing services such as security and fire alarm  systems are particularly at risk.

Installers should have received asbestos awareness training
Installers should have received asbestos awareness training.

The reason that installers are likely to disturb the carcinogenic  substance is that they work in third-party buildings and so are reliant on the  occupier to inform them of the presence of the material.

Compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is patchy and  therefore it’s pretty common for installers to find themselves in a building  that is old enough to include asbestos containing materials (ACMs) but on  which there is no information. Drilling into ceilings, chasing cables, working  in roof voids, etc. are activities that have a fair chance of disturbing  asbestos.

ProsecutionA recent case highlights the plight of visiting engineers, in this case  where misinformation caused an incident.

In July 2011, two fire alarm installers were working at the premises of Romag  Ltd, a glass firm based in Consett.

They had been informed that the building was free from asbestos, but it  wasn’t true.

While installing the equipment, they drilled in to an asbestos  insulation panel. Unaware of any problem, they then vacuumed up the debris. The  two sub-contractors then moved on through the building installing detectors and  cleaning up after themselves with the same ordinary vacuum cleaner.  Unfortunately this had the effect of spreading asbestos fibres around the  premises.

The mistake was realised the next day and Romag’s safety advisers urged  it to take emergency action by cordoning off the damaged area, bringing in  specialists to clean, and conducting air testing to check that the levels of  asbestos fibre had been brought within legal limits.

However, there was a delay of at least nine days before such action was  taken. When it was, it is reported that a “substantial amount” of the material  was collected.

The HSE found that the delay would have led to 180 workers and 16  visitors being potentially exposed.

In court, Romag Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of  the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and  ordered to pay £12,638 in costs.

The sharp-eyed among  you will have noticed that the asbestos  legislation was not used in court, but this is not significant, the HSE tends  to use the “umbrella act” of the Health and Safety at Work   Act 1974 when  prosecuting.

Duty holder responsibilityAny company that has a repairing or maintenance responsibility for  non-domestic premises has a duty to manage asbestos. The HSE has given a cut-off date of the year 2000, after which it can be assumed that UK property is  asbestos free. For buildings preceding that date, the duty holder needs to identify  asbestos-containing materials and ensure that they are properly managed to  prevent exposure. Alternatively, they may presume that materials contain  asbestos where there is a lack of strong evidence to the contrary.

The usual approach is to pay for a specialist asbestos survey, assess  the risk from any materials found, and produce a management plan.

What installers  should know

It’s perfectly reasonable  to ask a client for the asbestos register before starting work. This enables installers  to see the locations of any known asbestos. Beware though that the register is  only as good as the survey.

You should therefore try to  establish the extent of any survey which contributed to the register. There are  two levels, “management” and “demolition/ refurbishment.”  Depending on the  scope of the installation work, the management survey may not be good enough as  it won’t look beneath the surface.

Alarm companies need to  minimize the risk of exposure to asbestos both to their engineers and to others  using the building. In addition to planning of the work and communicating with  the client, companies should ensure that workers have received asbestos  awareness training. This is for the purpose of being able to identify suspect  materials whilst working and knowing what to do about it.

If you want workers to  carry out fixing to asbestos-containing materials, then the training required  will be much more in-depth. Safe systems of work will need to be adopted. A  good way forward is to model these on the HSE’s guidance, “Asbestos  essentials.”

This and a great deal more  information is available from the HSE’s website.