RICS Draft Guidance Note: Asbestos - legal requirements and best practice for property professionals and clients (4th edition)

RICS Asbestos 4th edition consultation draft

4.2.2 Assessing the risks from asbestos

Employers are obliged to assess risk to employees prior to starting any work with ACMs. In accordance with regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 they must then take specific measures to control and assess exposure.

The basic procedure for any health and safety hazard is to assess and control the risk from it. A hazard is defined as anything that could cause harm. However, there are many such hazards, so it is more useful to categorise them according to the degree of harm they can cause. The assessment of risk from a hazard needs to take into account the likelihood of it occurring, and then the severity of harm it would cause if it does occur.

This is the formula for assessing the level of risk:

Risk = likelihood of harm x severity of harm

If the risk assessment shows that the hazard could cause harm, and the degree of harm is deemed unacceptable, it is necessary to take measures to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. The risk that remains is known as the residual risk.

In summary:

  • Hazards with an unacceptable level of risk need to have additional control measures put in place to produce a lower residual risk.
  • A low-risk hazard does not need additional control measures.

The HSE provides guidance on risk assessments for asbestos in L143 and Asbestos Essentials HSG210: A Task Manual for Building, Maintenance and Allied Trades on Non-licensed Asbestos Work.

The risk of exposure to asbestos is influenced by several factors:

  • the type of material: whether it is friable or non-friable
  • the condition of the material: whether it is damaged or not
  • the surface treatment: whether it has any damage protection, and
  • the extent: the quantity of ACM.

It is possible to work out the risk of doing different types of work on asbestos, based on:

  • whether the work is on friable or non-friable materials
  • whether hand tools or power tools will be used
  • what control measures will be used for preventing fibre release and
  • what training operatives have had.

An example of high-risk work is the removal of a large amount of friable ACM, for example pipe lagging, using power tools. This would need a robust set of control measures to control the spread of dust and prevent exposure. In the UK the use of power tools is prohibited in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

At the opposite end of the scale, low-risk work could involve taking a sample of a non-friable or bonded material, such as a floor tile, where the work is quick and only involves hand tools.

This assessment of risk needs to be performed by the employer whose staff are carrying out the work. The risk assessment should be documented, available for inspection at the place where the work is being carried out and updated should any of the hazard criteria change. Risk assessments should be recorded in as simple and clear a manner as possible.

The outputs of a risk assessment that are most relevant to asbestos in buildings are:

  • The asbestos register: this is produced following the asbestos survey and should identify the locations and condition of ACMs in the building. The dutyholder, normally together with their advisor/asbestos surveyor, should decide what the risk of fibre release from each material is and how to deal with that risk.
  • The asbestos management plan should then use the information in the asbestos register to aid asbestos management at the premises and therefore prevent exposure. Part of the management plan will be to assess the risks identified in the survey, along with the risks associated with using the space. Combining these allows for the prioritisation of actions and the development of a management strategy.
  • Asbestos work: if work on ACMs is to be carried out, the employer of the people doing the work needs to assess whether the work is low risk (non-licensed) or high risk (licensed).