Asbestos Management: Comply or Die
By Ian Gulliford, Environmental Services Director, William Martin
In risk management, compliance dashboards, pie charts and flashing warnings have become increasingly popular as a tool for understanding and mitigating risk.
But, in a world where technology is king, are we losing the human touch?
Perhaps we need to focus more on the real hazards at hand and consider the true impact that they have on human life.
The title for this piece, ‘Comply or Die’, seemed a fitting choice to provoke thought and discussion around the nature of asbestos management in the UK.
For those working in the property management, we need to ask ourselves: are we really getting to grips with the management of asbestos in the UK?
What are the recent developments in asbestos management?
The government and enforcing bodies believe that the current regulatory framework is effective. But, the view from within the asbestos consultancy industry is very different.
Last year, the Asbestos Testing and Consulting industry body (ATAC) presented an eye-opening report; this analysed over a million individual Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) data lines, submitted by leading UKAS Inspection Bodies across the UK.
One of the main findings was that a significant proportion of identified ACMs are both high risk and have some element of damage. This is from data captured in just a 6-month period, and the report also showed that much of these ACMs had been in the reported condition for a long period of time.
This begs the question of what ‘management’ of asbestos means to the people and organisations responsible for mitigating those risks.
How can you effectively mitigate the risks of asbestos exposure?
Those who are responsible for the management of asbestos take actions such as:
- Procuring a survey.
- Procuring a subsequent reinspection regime.
- Uploading the documents to a portal or risk management compliance platform.
Although these are necessary steps to take, essentially, this is just record keeping.
Effectively managing these risks involves ensuring that ACMs are maintained in a good condition, and ensuring they are not accidentally damaged.
This might be easy to say, but not so easy to robustly implement—particularly across large property portfolios.
However, this is the crux of the ‘Comply or Die’ conundrum. If no one is at immediate risk then the perception is that any recommendations for action can wait.
How long can asbestos materials be left in a poor condition?
For example, consider asbestos insulating board, which is slightly damaged, in a lift motor room. This would generally be given a lower risk rating because it’s a room that’s rarely accessed, and if it is, only for short periods of time.
So, for the building manager, it would seem reasonable to defer remedial action on that material. But asbestos management should look beyond the operator of a building when prioritising remedial actions; true management lies in the assessing the risks of exposure to asbestos by considering all users of a building.
What is the human impact of asbestos exposure?
To this day, asbestos remains the biggest occupational killer in the UK. The long-term health of building users and occupiers is at serious risk from exposure to asbestos.
Since the management regulations were introduced in 2002, the numbers affected have continued to rise. The latest research suggests the numbers will not fall as rapidly but will have a long tail, with continuing mortality. This is a direct result of accidental and incidental exposures of people working in building trades and for those working in buildings containing asbestos.
We must act now to safeguard the health and safety of those who work in or occupy buildings known to contain asbestos materials.
How can you implement an effective asbestos management strategy?
Compliance systems do provide an excellent tool to ensure easy management of statutory documentation and recommended actions. However, asbestos management extends beyond this.
Among other factors, a successful asbestos management strategy should ensure:
- Adequate training is in place.
- There are suitable procedures for controlling access to buildings.
- The control of works and contractors.
- The flow of information and triggers for further surveying.
Protecting human life at all costs should be the ultimate goal when putting an effective asbestos management strategy in place.
Two decades have passed since the introduction of the duty to manage, and we must now look to the next 20 years and how we reduce the human cost of failing to manage effectively.
At William Martin, we have the experience and expertise to help our clients take a compliance-based view as well as a practical and pragmatic approach to asbestos management.
At William Martin, we bring together clever consultancy with smart technology, so our clients can grow. If you want to know more about how we can help you, get in touch or call our team on 0203 819 8829.