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March 16, 2015

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Exemptions for non-licensable asbestos removal

By Paul Clarke-Scholes

Examples of non-licensable asbestos include removal of cement materials, floor tiles and decorative coatings (e.g. artex). An HSE licence is not required for these materials as they typically contain low levels of ‘less dangerous’ asbestos type – chrysotile and the fibres are securely bonded in the material. In these cases the HSE do not require an advance 14-day notification to be submitted which provides a date for the works and details of how it will be carried out. Some activities do require notification (notifiable, non-licensable work) before commencement, but we will consider these in a separate blog.

There are some exemptions that allow for work to take place on materials that are normally licensable, principally, short duration work on asbestos insulating board (AIB), and we have encountered some misunderstanding of the rules governing the exemption from notification. This is understandable as the guidance is quite complex and pressure originating from desires to hit programme and cost deadlines can dictate the approach.

If there is any doubt, we advise our client that we should notify and wait the 14 days, even if works are exempt, to eliminate times pressures on the work.

Let us examine a scenario in which holes need to be drilled into AIB to enable a plumber to fit new overflow pipes as part of a refurbishment programme. Let’s say each hole takes 10 minutes and the contract requires plumbers to access five properties in a week. So the contractor asks for all the holes to be drilled between 9am and 10am on Monday giving the plumbers the rest of the week to work. This appears to meet the criteria for the exemption as the work is of less than 2 man-hours duration.

Potential problems arise when you read the guidance for such work “A1. Drilling holes in asbestos insulating board” which states:

  1. Polythene sheeting on the floor of the scaffold tower
  2. H-Type vacuum to provide LEV during drilling
  3. Access the rear of the board to apply tape or wall paper paste or shaving foam
  4. Drill the hole
  5. Seal the edges
  6. Fit the sleeve
  7. Move onto the next one.

This is a two-person operation, must be no more than 1 hour in total including time to set up. Therefore the clock is ticking from the moment the first piece of equipment comes off the van, scaffold tower up and polythene on whilst the second operative accesses the roof space (safe access needed if no floor boards) to paint the rear of the board, drill the board, clear up the debris, relocate and repeat.

Unless the properties are adjacent, the slightest delay in gaining access or at any point along the route bring the process to a halt and no more similar work can be conducted on that site for a week, delaying the entire project. The work cannot be caught up, even by using another contractor as Guidance Note A4 (exemption for single panels) makes clear by saying “not to be used for more than two small panels per week”.

Even though an exemption is technically feasible in this scenario, the solution should be to notify. The work can still be conducted to the sequence outlined above as adequate control of fibre can be demonstrated, meaning that there is little increase in cost. It may even be cheaper to have a two-person team for the day and drill 20 holes than it is to programme a team for two hours on one site and then have to transfer them to another job.

Similarly, single, free standing AIB panels are exempt BUT only for the first two on a given site. A refurb of a block of flats with 20 or more such panels will always be notifiable.

The solution is to be very wary of relying on exemptions. Make sure that the results of the survey are properly considered as soon as they are available rather then waiting until the refurbishment is almost ready to begin. If in any doubt, assume that the work should be notified and plan for that accordingly.

Paul Clarke-Scholes is HSQE advisor for Clifford Devlin Ltd. Next week, he will be writing about emergency procedures for asbestos removal.

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In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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8 years ago

Great article, lots of useful information. Thanks for sharing with us.

Asbestos Removal Operative Job | New Mesotheliom Lawyer
8 years ago

[…] Exemptions for non-licensable asbestos removal – Examples of non-licensable asbestos include removal of cement materials … scaffold tower up and polythene on whilst the second operative accesses the roof space (safe access needed if no floor boards) to paint the rear of the board, drill the board … […]

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attic cleaning Brisbane
7 years ago

While asbestos is not harmful on its own, if disturbed or deteriorating, asbestos releases small fibers unseen by the human eye which are breathed in, thus affecting the lungs and esophagus.