Phil Franks of Franks Portlock discusses the challenges and solutions to asbestos management - and how to avoid the pitfalls.
12 May 2017 | Phil Franks
An asbestos management system is essentially a database of all materials within a site portfolio that contains asbestos.
It identifies and prioritises areas of risk and provides facilities managers with the information they need to deal with the day-to-day effects of building use on materials containing asbestos. If, for instance, a leak causes a disturbance to ceiling tiles, an asbestos management system would immediately be able to pinpoint any issues this would raise.
FMs responsible for asbestos management should be in possession of an up-to-date asbestos survey, ensuring that all information relating to materials that contain asbestos is recorded in a system. And following an inspection, the first priority should be to update the database.
There are a number of off-the-shelf asbestos management tools available and it is worth investing some time into transferring information into a system. It makes managing known asbestos materials simpler and annual re-inspections can be scheduled.
Here's what you should do:
1. Examine the legacy of asbestos management
How have your portfolio's asbestos challenges been managed in the past? A badly photocopied asbestos report, left in the back of a drawer, can be a strong warning sign that a robust system is not in place.
FMs sometimes inherit a 'patchwork quilt' of legacy asbestos information in well-meaning but incomplete spreadsheets, PDFs and hardcopies stored in files. Systems that may have meant something to the previous incumbent - who may have had no formal training in asbestos management - don't necessarily transfer well.
But that doesn't mean you need to get your portfolio resurveyed. By reviewing your current information and producing a gap analysis, you can then focus on missing or poor-quality data. It is quicker and more cost effective to carry out a desktop review than to resurvey.
2. Keep information up to date
Buildings change and refurbishments are inevitable in a site's lifetime. Ensure that you review data in light of refurbishment campaigns. As we continue to move towards open-plan styles, floor plans and room descriptions will alter, making older management asbestos surveys difficult to follow, if not irrelevant.
Keep details of asbestos removal and make a note about the event along with supporting documentation. Don't delete the item from your register, it is important to keep the information on file for traceability. If you are using an asbestos consultancy, ensure that re-inspections are conducted within a 12-month period as a minimum - and that you get the system updated as soon as possible.
3. Don't overreact
Measure your response to asbestos remediation. It can be a costly and disruptive exercise, so make a decision as to whether it might be best to restrict access or make it otherwise inaccessible rather than, for example, to remove it. Asbestos is only dangerous when airborne as microscopic fibres, so provided that it is protected, this will normally be a more cost-effective measure.
4. Understanding legislation
Make it a coordinated effort, but don't devolve responsibility to staff who are not equipped for it. Such staff are often ill trained to deal with asbestos management, and are not well versed in current legislation. It is vital to ensure that staff who may be in contact with the material have asbestos awareness training as a minimum. But the BOHS qualifications P405® Management of Asbestos in Buildings and P407® Managing Asbestos in Premises - The Duty Holder Requirements are useful for those in positions of responsibility.
5. Further reading
FMs should ensure that they refer to L143 (2nd edition) - Managing and working with asbestos, Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 - Approved Code of Practice and guidance. This document combines two previous publications, L143 (1st edition) and L127 into one essential guide. A further document - INDG223(rev5) Managing Asbestos in Buildings: A brief guide - also provides useful information.