Asbestos in Surgery Premises

Background

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 required employers to prevent exposure of employees to asbestos.

Although its use in building materials in now prohibited, asbestos was widely used in the past in many building materials, many of which may be found in surgery premises, such as lagging for pipes and boilers, ceiling tiles, electrical insulation, exterior roofing and guttering. Asbestos is the biggest occupational health problem in the UK, however it poses no threat provided the product of which it is a component is in good condition and undisturbed. But if it is disturbed (for example by drilling or cutting) asbestos particles and fibres may be released into the air. If breathed in, asbestos dust settles in the lungs and sufficient exposure may lead to fatal diseases, chiefly cancers of the lung and chest lining.

Since April 2002 it has been the responsibility of building owners and occupiers to establish if asbestos is present and if so in what quantities. A record must be kept of the location and condition of all asbestos-bearing materials, and this information must be provided to anyone who is likely to disturb the material, for example anyone doing building maintenance or alteration.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).

In practice the changes are fairly limited. They mean that some types of non-licensed work with asbestos now have additional requirements, i.e. notification of work, medical surveillance and record keeping. All other requirements remain unchanged.

Are surgery premises likely to contain asbestos products?

While most asbestos products were banned by 1985, some were in use until 1999, so most practice premises are likely to contain some asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Even old buildings constructed before the asbestos era may nevertheless contain ACMs in the materials used in alterations and refurbishments.

What are a practice's obligations?

Under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, practices which have maintenance and repair responsibilities for their premises (either through a contract or tenancy agreement or because they own the premises), are required to manage the risk from asbestos by:

  • finding out if there is asbestos in the premises, its amount and what condition it is in
  • presuming materials contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • making and keeping an up to date record of the location and condition of the ACMs or presumed ACMs
  • assessing the risk from the material
  • preparing a plan that sets out in detail how they are going to manage the risk from this material
  • taking the steps needed to put the plan into action
  • reviewing and monitoring the plan and the arrangements made to put it in place
  • providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it

What action should practices take?

  1. Ensure they are familiar with the Regulations.
  2. Ensure an adequate asbestos management programme is in place / is put in place, fulfilling the obligations listed above. Implementing the programme may involve obtaining specialist advice from architects or surveyors.

Further information

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