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July 8, 2008

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Just ask- Tradesmen and asbestos in homes

Question: Many older homes still have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) present for the maintenance tradesman to be aware of and handle. What else should the tradesman be doing, before commencing work, and up to completion, in order to protect everyone affected, including the occupants?


According to the HSE, asbestos is the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. So it is vital that workers, and others who may be affected, are protected from the risk of exposure to asbestos.

To fulfil their duties under legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA 1974) and the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR 2006), the employer – or the responsible person – has the duty to prevent or reduce exposure to asbestos. This includes collation of information about the location and condition of any asbestos present in the premises, and sharing it prior to commencement of the work.

If the work is in non-domestic premises – which includes the common parts of purpose-built blocks of flats, such as the foyers or corridors – then under Regulation 4 of CAR 2006, there is a duty to manage and identify the presence of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). This duty is placed on the party responsible for repair and maintenance of the premises, or in control of the premises (for example the landlord, owner or employer).

Maintenance tradesmen should ask if any such information is available – normally in the form of an asbestos register – before any work is carried out, and then establish whether or not to carry out the work, or decide if a licensed contractor is required.

For domestic premises/private dwellings, such as houses or flats, or rooms within a private residence that are shared by more than one household, the duty to manage and identify ACMs under Regulation 4 would not apply. However, landlords would still have a duty under the Defective Premises Act 1972 in England and Wales or the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 in Scotland. A competent asbestos survey and/or samples may have to be taken for verification prior to commencement of any work.

A safe system of work should then be put in place. For example, the relevant HSE Asbestos Task Essentials sheets that offer guidance on specific situations should be used.

For example, Equipment and Method Sheet EM1 provides a flowchart on what to do if material that may contain asbestos is uncovered or damaged. The safe systems of work may also avoid disturbing or damaging suspected ACMs in good condition where possible; keeping other people away from the area of work; wearing protective clothing (e.g. overalls) – preferably disposable, avoid breathing in suspected asbestos dust; keeping suspected ACMs wet to avoid producing dust; not drilling, cutting or disturbing suspected ACMs; not scraping or sanding suspected ACMs before painting and decorating, using hand tools rather than power tools, using a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags to clear up suspected ACM dust or debris; cleaning up as the work progresses; removing overalls carefully to avoid raising any dust; and, providing the occupiers with information about asbestos.

Every care is taken in the preparation of these questions and answers, which are supplied by Croner Consulting, a trading division of WoltersKluwer(UK) Ltd. Any advice or guidance contained herein is not to be taken as the official advice or guidance of IOSH or SHP/UBM. The information is correct at the time the answer was formulated and posted. However, the answers given can only address the general principles involved. Professional advice must be sought on any specific query or problem your business has relating to any issue or area raised.

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