While many workers in the traditional manufacturing and engineering industries, which used asbestos as a low-cost source of insulation and fire retardant material fell victim to asbestosis diseases, it is those men employed in the building trades, including carpenters, joiners, plumbers, heating and ventilating engineers, electricians and electrical fitters, who are most at danger.

Frequently, court cases are reported where companies who were carrying out building renovations or demolition, failed to carry out the necessary asbestos surveys, risk assessments and management plans. While it is possible that the reason may be due to either a lack of asbestos awareness or sufficient training, it cannot be discounted that wilful disregard of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 may be simply due to perceived time and cost involved. Either way, the significant damages regularly awarded for neglect of the correct procedures still continue.

There is a key difference between Management Surveys and Refurbishment and Demolition Surveys.
Management Surveys should be carried out on properties, which contain or possibly contain Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs), while Refurbishment and Demolition Surveys are required where refurbishment work or other work involving disturbing the fabric of the building is carried out.

In most cases a survey will have three key aims, which are to:

  • Reasonably and practicably find and record the location, extent and product type of any presumed or known ACMs. The majority of asbestos material is likely to be chrysotile white asbestos, which was only banned from use in 1992 although amosite brown asbestos, banned from 1985, can still be uncovered in rare instances.
  • Determine and record the asbestos type, either by collecting representative samples of suspect materials for laboratory identification, or by making a reasonable assumption based on the product type and its’ appearance, etc.
  • Inspect and record information on the accessibility, condition and surface treatment of any presumed or known ACMs. The risks of uncovering asbestos in a friable ( fragile and disintegrating) condition if found to be worn or moist.

Disturbed asbestos fibres released into the air can be easily inhaled and will lodge permanently in the linings of the lungs. The long latency period of up to 50 years before mesothelioma or other asbestosis symptoms appear often means the disease has spread to an advanced stage and prognosis is seldom more than 6 months, possibly one year.

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the number of mesothelioma deaths rose to 2,249 in 2008. Currently more than 2,000 people are diagnosed annually in the UK with mesothelioma and at least a further 2,000 cases of lung cancer are directly related to asbestos exposure.