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Last updated: 22.12.20

How to conduct an asbestos risk assessment

Asbestos is a material that has been banned in all of its forms, but is unfortunately still found in many buildings and large-scale equipment. If you’re working on a project with a building that may bring you into contact with asbestos containing material (ACM), it is vital to carry out a risk assessment before you begin. 

An asbestos risk assessment will decide whether it is possible to avoid the risk of exposure to the material, or whether safety measures will have to be put in place to control and avoid harmful ACM exposure.  

What Does an Asbestos Risk Assessment Do? 

An asbestos risk assessment is carried out to determine the level of risk that employees will be exposed to when working on a site that includes ACM and decide on the best way to work in these conditions to avoid harm. 

Completing this risk assessment will: 

  • Identify the level of risk from ACM and identify who may be affected by this risk
  • Decide on the necessary actions that will either remove the risk of asbestos exposure or limit this exposure as much as possible
  • Provide employees with a record of all the identified risks and the proposed methods to avoid them
  • Create a risk assessment document that can be reviewed and updated as a project takes place

Who Can Complete an Asbestos Risk Assessment? 

An asbestos risk assessment must be carried out by someone with the necessary skills, training and experience to accurately determine the potential risks of a building or site where ACM is present. This is to ensure that the evaluation of the risk the asbestos poses is as informed and accurate as possible and that the estimated level of exposure is correct. 

Having someone experienced carry out your risk assessment will also ensure that the decisions made about risk prevention are informed, and reassure everyone involved that the preventative actions you are taking will be sufficient. 

Anybody can carry out an asbestos risk assessment as long as they are competent; it can be done by an employer, an employee or by a specialist. What’s important is that this individual understands the risks of ACMs and how to limit or remove these, and that they are aware of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. 

If you are planning on carrying out your own asbestos risk assessment, you can complete our online Asbestos Awareness course to gain detailed knowledge of the risks that working with ACM carries and key legislation that applies to the material. 

What Does an Asbestos Risk Assessment Include? 

All risk assessments follow a similar process of identifying risks and who may be affected by them, deciding on how these risks will be minimised or avoided, and then distributing the assessment so that the preventative measures are implemented. An asbestos risk assessment is no different, but also features several specific steps that must be taken to analyse the ACMs and choose the equipment and procedures necessary for working with asbestos. 

Step 1: Identify the health risks of exposure to ACM

The person undertaking your asbestos risk assessment must first pinpoint the risks that working with or around ACMs could pose to employees. This will include the various health problems that asbestos exposure can cause, but also involves any risks posed by equipment that might be used around the ACMs. 

To identify these risks, the assessor must visit the workplace in order to inspect each area of the site and note down where each risk is present. Their assessment will also include speaking to the site owner and other employees that work there, and reviewing past documentation that details the history of the site or building. 

Previous asbestos assessments may have taken place, so the risk assessor will also consult previous asbestos surveys and reports to gain more information about the types of ACM present and whether they have been handled or damaged. 

From this initial assessment, the assessor will be able to identify the quantity of asbestos present and the types of material that pose a risk to other people’s health. As part of the regulations for an asbestos risk assessment, they will also provide details on the expected level of exposure that those interacting with the ACM may experience. 

Step 2: Identify who may be at risk

Once every asbestos risk has been confirmed, it is then the job of the assessor to identify everyone who might be affected by the ASMs. Depending on the levels of asbestos that are going to be exposed, this could just be the individuals who are working with or near the ASMs, or the risk could also apply to passing members of the public. 

If you’re working on a building or site that is still operating as a commercial space during work, you may need to factor this into the risk assessment as well. 

Levels of exposure will differ at various points around the site, and this will affect the people working in these areas in different ways. The role of the assessor is to go around every part of the building or site to evaluate the risk that ACM exposure poses, and then identify the individuals who will enter and work in each of these areas. 

Step 3: Decide what preventative measures will be taken

Arguably the most important part of any risk assessment is determining what preventative measures are going to be taken to minimise risk. Whilst asbestos is a very dangerous material, it can be entirely risk-free to work with or around if you follow the correct safety protocols. 

It is the responsibility of the assessor to select the methods that will ensure the risk of ASM exposure is either minimised as much as possible or entirely removed. In most cases, it won’t be possible to avoid exposure completely if you are working with materials that contain asbestos, but there are many efficient ways to make this work as safe as you can. 

Precautions may include the controlled wetting of site areas, asbestos enclosure, installing ventilation where the ASM is located, and giving protective clothing and equipment to anyone at risk of exposure. If a large quantity of asbestos is being dealt with, whole areas of the site or building may be enclosed to ensure everyone else’s safety. 

Step 4: Establish decontamination and disposal procedures

Working with and around ASM is only half of the story when it comes down to a risk assessment; once the work is completed then all equipment and waste needs to be properly cleaned or disposed of. As well as listing all the equipment that will be necessary to ensure safe working conditions, the assessor must also outline how this will all be cleaned and how any ACM waste will be handled. 

In many cases, waste will be disposed of externally and equipment will be fully decontaminated by the supplier. It is important to check that these measures will be followed through before any work takes place, as they are just as important as the preventative measures put in place during any work with ACMs.  

If employees are going to be decontaminating their own protective equipment and clothing, the assessor must outline the correct process for this in the risk assessment and make sure that all affected employees know what they are doing.  

Step 5: Produce and distribute assessment findings

Once the above steps have been completed, all of the information collected will need to be written up in an official asbestos risk assessment, which can be done digitally or on paper. A copy of this assessment must be kept on-site at all times where it can be consulted or updated as necessary.  

All employees must be informed of the measures being put in place for their safety and notified of the risks they may encounter. The risk assessor should also run through what employees should do in the case of an emergency where exposure risks increase, the details of which will also be available in the finished risk assessment document. 

If you have identified that other individuals may also be at risk from ASM exposure, such as nearby members of the public, this risk information must also be delivered to them. 

Step 6: Keep the risk assessment up to date

Once a risk assessment has been produced, it may be necessary to change or update some of the risk and procedures that are listed. This is the responsibility of the assessor, and is one of the reasons why it is so important to keep a copy of the risk assessment to hand on-site. 

Actions or events that may prompt a review of the risk assessment could be an accident, feedback from an employee, a near-miss with equipment or ACM, or the introduction of a new piece of equipment or member of staff. In some cases, a new hazard might be revealed as work progresses, which will also require an update to the risk assessment. 

FAQs 

When was asbestos banned?

Asbestos was banned from being used in July 1999, with the signing of The Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations in parliament. Despite the numerous health risks associated with the material, asbestos is yet to be banned from use in the United States of America.  

Where does asbestos come from?

Asbestos was originally mined in Africa, but was later discovered in Quebec, Canada and in Russia. Whilst it has since been found in several other countries, these are the locations where the material predominantly still comes from. 

Who does The Control of Asbestos Regulations apply to?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012) apply to anyone who works with asbestos in a significant quantity, or anyone who is liable to asbestos exposure at work. If you are responsible for a property that is not domestic, you are bound by these regulations to manage any asbestos that is present in the property and protect those who use and work in the premises. 

Under these regulations, any licensed work with asbestos needs to be undertaken by a licensed contractor, and any non-licensed work still needs to be carried out with health and safety controls to minimise damage.  

Summary 

The process of completing a risk assessment can be time-consuming, and there is a lot to remember when you are evaluating a site for asbestos exposure. Here’s a summary of everything that an asbestos risk assessment should include: 

  • The quantity and type of ACM present
  • The risk that each type of ACM could pose
  • The different levels of exposure present in the building or site
  • Every individual who might be at risk
  • Details and a timeframe of the work that will take place
  • The measures that will be taken to minimiserisk 
  • Safety procedures for the decontamination of exposed materials and equipment
  • Details of safe ASM management and disposal
  • Emergency exposure and evacuation procedures

Managing and working with asbestos is a difficult but often unavoidable part of the construction industry, and it is vitally important that those you work with are aware of the necessary procedures that must be followed to keep everyone safe. If you’re in charge of completing an asbestos risk assessment then the best thing you can do is follow all of the steps we have laid out about how to ensure the work can go ahead safely, and you’re unlikely to encounter any issues. 

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