Managing asbestos is a key health and safety concern, but we can have confidence in trained and certified professionals to deal with this hazardous substance say UKAS, the UK’s national accreditation body.

Many years ago, asbestos was considered to be the latest wonder material for its high resistance to heat and other chemicals. Consequently it was added to thousands of different products, ranging from wall panels and tiles to lagging and painting materials. It was only several years later that its adverse effects were first identified. Whilst asbestos may sound like a 20th Century problem, it took until 1999 to finally ban it from being used in building materials. This means that any building constructed prior to that ban could contain asbestos somewhere in it. Despite being a hazardous substance, the presence of asbestos in a building isn’t necessarily a problem, provided the asbestos is identified, monitored, maintained and safely removed where necessary.

With the Health & Safety Executive estimating around 4,000 annual deaths from asbestos-related diseases, it is vital that issues such as this are managed properly, particularly in non-domestic properties. Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) sets a legal requirement for owners and occupiers of non-domestic buildings to carry out a suitable assessment to determine whether asbestos is present or liable to be present. Furthermore, common areas of residential rented properties, such as halls, stairwells, and roof areas, are classified as non-domestic. A necessary part of the assessment process involves having a survey carried out, and the materials tested and analysed.

Contaminated land is also an issue especially in urban planning where a brownfield site is being considered for potential development. Previously it may have been used for industrial or commercial purposes, and been contaminated by hazardous waste or pollution, including asbestos.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 introduced Part 2A to deal with a substantial legacy of contaminated land in England, either from historical contamination and on-going land use, with the remit that unacceptable risk be removed. Indeed the Planning in England, National Planning Policy Framework (2012) oversees development of any land to ensure it is suitable for new use. The Environment Agency (EA) is the statutory consultee with the remit that it assesses sites for historical contamination and new land use. If asbestos is known or possible on site, it will be considered as a major contaminant of concern and in this instance the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 will apply.

There are many companies that provide consultancy and surveying services, sometimes at what can seem to be a low cost. However, there can be no guarantee that these organisations are competent to deliver what they say they can. So how can a duty holder be confident that the service will meet their requirements?

The answer is to seek out companies accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). As the UK’s national accreditation body, UKAS’ role is to assess whether organisations providing certification, testing, inspection and calibration services are meeting a required standard of performance. By effectively checking the checkers against international standards, the process of accreditation provides an independent and authoritative declaration that the organisation providing the service has the people, facilities, technical expertise, management systems and track record to undertake the activity professionally and competently.

Certification is often seen as one way of differentiating between service providers. However, even the widely recognised BHOS P402 certificate for asbestos surveying is not of itself a demonstration of competence. The HSE has long recognised the benefits of UKAS accreditation in providing confidence in the competence and capabilities of laboratories and inspection. Consequently the HSE strongly recommends the use of an accredited surveyor and UKAS currently accredits over 24 asbestos inspection bodies to carry out surveys. It is also mandatory for asbestos testing laboratories to be UKAS accredited to ISO 17025, with some 39 laboratories having reached that standard.

The most important benefit of using accredited suppliers is that it delivers confidence to procurers and end users. Glen Taylor is Head of Scientific Service at Hampshire Country Council and is specifically responsible for managing asbestos in the council’s portfolio of buildings. He comments that; “As a purchaser, it is essential that we get what we ask for, so UKAS accreditation is a pre-requisite whenever we are choosing an organisation to work with to help us manage asbestos. We do not look for UKAS accreditation in one area of asbestos management. We would look for it in all areas that can be accredited. The reasons for using a UKAS-accredited company are manifold. Firstly, it is a way of ensuring the quality of the work. Secondly, we are dealing with the management of asbestos in schools and offices, and so there are clearly reputational issues at stake as well. Using a UKAS accredited organisation is not going to necessarily increase the price of procuring a particular service. A UKAS accredited organisation will offer value for money. The cost of getting it wrong and re-working is phenomenally expensive. This would not be the best use of rate payers’ money. It is much cheaper to get it right first time.”

The assessment involved in gaining accredited status is not only robust, it is also a continuous process, involving surveillance visits over a four year cycle in order to ensure that best practice is followed continuously, and there is no risk of everything being ‘scrubbed up’ for a single assessment visit. Moreover, it is not a rubber stamping exercise as UKAS has the power to suspend or permanently withdraw accredited status. UKAS accreditation is the best way to be certain that the service is fit for purpose, technically competent, completely impartial and accountable. Not only does this demonstrate due diligence and best practice on the part of the duty holder, it also means peace of mind for everyone. Where something as important as asbestos management is concerned, it makes sense to use accredited suppliers.



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