Asbestos is a collective term given to a number of naturally-occurring minerals that have been linked to several serious health issues.
If a workplace contains asbestos, an employer must ensure that an appropriate asbestos risk assessment is carried out before the work begins. This risk assessment will cover information on the risks present, and the precautions that need to be implemented to keep everyone safe.
In this article, we will look at the steps involved in completing an asbestos risk assessment, and who can carry it out.
While asbestos is now entirely banned in the United Kingdom, asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are often present in older buildings. This is dangerous because damaging these materials can cause their fibres to be released into the air where they can be inhaled, putting workers at risk of developing various life-threatening health problems such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Read our previous article titled 'Top 9 questions on asbestos, answered' to find more information on the dangers of exposure to asbestos and cancer risk.
For this reason, every employer must ensure that an adequate risk assessment is carried out before work starts on a building that may contain asbestos. This risk assessment must establish what risks may be present, as well as the actions that must be taken to minimise or eliminate these risks.
A risk assessment can be carried out by anyone, as long as they are a competent person with a knowledge of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and their requirements. This may be an employer, a specialist, or any person involved with the premises who has received relevant training.
To identify appropriate safety measures, this competent person must also understand the danger of working with asbestos-containing materials and be able to estimate the expected level of exposure, which requires a high level of expertise.
Finally, a risk assessment must be thorough and carried out in advance to allow for enough time to implement any necessary safety measures.
If you plan on learning more about Asbestos, consider taking our Asbestos Awareness course. It contains information on all the relevant legislation and regulations, as well as guidance on what to do upon finding asbestos at work.
There are five key steps to an asbestos risk assessment:
One of the first things that an assessor should do is visually inspect the site in order to identify any areas where asbestos is present.
They should also review the building’s documentation. Ideally, this documentation will include an asbestos survey and a follow-up report that details the type of asbestos-containing materials present, their condition and how likely it is that they will be disturbed.
Using this information, the next step is to outline in detail the risks present in the workplace, including:
The next step of completing an asbestos risk assessment involves identifying who may be at risk.
It is important to be aware that those who work directly, or in close proximity with, ACMs will be more likely to experience harm than those who do not. As a result, an assessor must evaluate the expected level of exposure and risks associated with each building area while completing their inspection.
Also, it may be the case that a work activity puts members of the public at risk too. If so, the asbestos risk assessment must identify this and list any necessary safety measures required to protect them.
For more information on conducting a risk assessment, consider taking our online risk assessment training course.
An asbestos risk assessment must include a list of all the control measures that are required to ensure that the work can be carried out safely.
In most cases, it is impossible to eliminate the risks associated with asbestos-containing materials. This means that the control measures identified should aim to reduce a person’s exposure to asbestos. For example, they may involve:
Asbestos waste is hazardous and must be correctly stored and disposed of as a result. To ensure that this is the case, every asbestos risk assessment should include information on:
Most of the time, asbestos waste will be disposed of by a dedicated contractor with the equipment and expertise required to do so safely. If this is the case, it is important that arrangements are made with them before any work is carried out to prevent any unsafe storage or disposal of asbestos taking place.
Once completed, an employer must record their risk assessment and its significant findings if they have five or more employees, and keep a copy of this assessment on-site for all employees to view.
They must also inform their employees of the contents of the risk assessment, including:
Keeping a risk assessment up to date is vital because any undocumented changes may introduce new hazards to a workplace that are not adequately controlled, and may cause harm as a result.
For this reason, a risk assessment must be reviewed regularly, and under a number of circumstances, including: