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Survey Clarification

13 August 2009

The HSE’s new guide on asbestos surveying will clarify the appropriate use of different Types of survey leading to better surveys and reports, ensuring the client is better informed and ultimately leading to better asbestos management

SINCE 2001, THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO ASBESTOS SURVEYING, be it Type 1, 2 or 3 has been the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) MDHS100 ‘Surveying, sampling and asbestos of asbestos-containing materials’. The guide details how to identify asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in the workplace through survey and recording, and also provides information for clients and duty holders – those who may commission surveys.

This is all about to change. This summer will see the launch of the new HSE document entitled, ‘Asbestos – The Survey Guide’, which at the time of writing is still in draft stage. This document will attempt to improve clarity to both Duty Holder and surveyor, bringing an openness and better awareness to asbestos surveying and its role within an effective asbestos management plan.

Currently, although in many cases, excellent surveying and reporting practices and standards are being followed and met, the HSE does have concerns. In the event of criminal or civil action should anything go wrong, costs will be high – financially, professionally and personally.

These concerns can be client based where a lack of knowledge and understanding can lead to the wrong survey being commissioned – “I’ll have a type 3 survey as that MUST be the best”, or a lack of understanding of the Duty To Manage (Regulation 4) (DTM) process so that any survey that is carried out and put on the shelf.

The issues are also surveyor based, where lack of experience, lack of knowledge and lack of training can and indeed has, impacted upon the quality of surveys, with ACMs being missed and whole areas not being surveyed. The current economic climate can also add to this with pressure to ‘get the job done quickly’ so a good return is made. The sometimes overuse of caveats within surveys is another issue.

MDHS100 was originally published in 2001, thereby predating the subsequent DTM regulations and so it had to anticipate future Requirements. Since DTM was introduced, there has been a failure to capture and utilise information, experience and knowledge gained over this period. The document was essentially a method statement rather than a guide and as such provided limited client / Duty Holder guidance on surveys and how they fit in with the DTM process. According to the HSE, the new guidance will address these issues and rather than being simply a ‘method’, it will seek to provide practical information to all interested parties, from surveyors to Duty Holders. It will no longer be an MDHS document but will sit squarely in the HSG series.

The stated aims of the new guidance are to ensure that the surveyor is better informed and more aware of the clients needs, thereby producing better surveys and ultimately better reports. Equally, the client will also be better informed, have a greater understanding of the types of survey and needs of the surveyor, thereby leading to better asbestos management. The obvious and most anticipated change is that surveys will no longer be known as Type 1, 2 or 3, instead they will become Management Surveys, or Refurbishment / Demolition Surveys. This is a conscious attempt to move away from the perception that Type 1 is the ‘cheap’ version of a survey and that Type 3 is the best, with all the associated bells and whistles – a perception that can be damaging, both metaphorically and literally.

The Management Survey will replace the current Type 1 and 2 surveys. It will be used where there is to be continued use of the building under normal occupancy and activities with its associated services and installations and may require some minor intrusive work. All accessible areas should be surveyed, including lift shafts, ceiling voids, tunnels so far as is reasonably practicable and, as with current surveying regime, any areas not accessed should be presumed to contain asbestos. The surveys can be sampling or presumptive or a combination of both.

The Refurbishment / Demolition survey replaces the Type 3 survey. This survey should be used to uncover all ACMs in all areas and will usually involve destructive or aggressive surveying techniques to access these areas. This type of survey should be used whenever refurbishment is carried out and work will disturb the fabric of the building in areas where a management survey has not been intrusive, or obviously, prior to demolition. The survey can be localised and carried out on a small scale, for example if a kitchen refurbishment is being considered, and there will be guidance on how to use this in the domestic sector.

In the case of both surveys, it will be up to the Duty Holder / Responsible Person / customer to decide which survey is to be carried out but will require the surveyor to provide guidance. Aside from terminology changes, the new document aims to be more accessible for all parties, seeking to provide clear, specific guidance for the customer with regard to surveys and the DTM, how to select a competent surveyor (including guidance on what actually defines a competent surveyor – P402, UKAS, ABICS, how much experience do they have), what to expect from your chosen surveyor and subsequent survey and, what to check on that survey.

There will be expanded sections and new guidance on survey strategy, surveying in the domestic sector and report writing so that all findings can be easily and clearly communicated and understood. To further reinforce the drive for better and more complete reporting, there is emphasis on moving away from caveats within the survey, only using them where completely necessary and if they are to be used, they should be agreed upon at the beginning of the process.

In the UK, there are a large number of buildings that contain asbestos, meaning that there is a very large proportion of the population that could be exposed to the dangers of asbestos fibre release. It is estimated that there could be around 20 million people occupying these buildings that could fall into a ‘low risk’ exposure group but potentially two million maintenance personnel, working on these buildings, who would fall into a ‘high risk’ exposure group.

The incidence of asbestos related deaths is increasing and latest research (Peto, 2009) suggests that by 2050 there could be 90,000 deaths from Mesothilioma in the UK with the maintenance and construction trades making up a large proportion of this figure. There remains an ignorance of what asbestos is, what it looks like and where it can be found, and complacency as to the risk. The message is, and has been for some time, that management of asbestos is key and a good survey is a key part of this process.

The new guide will empower those with the responsibility for managing asbestos to understand why a survey is needed and importantly, what type of survey is required. It will provide information and guidance to enable questions to be asked of the surveyor in terms of competence and of what to expect. The guide will hopefully provide clear information on types of ACMs and where they may be found in your building, allowing any survey commissioned to be checked and understood.

If you fail to manage the asbestos on your premises, or manage it poorly, the implications are significant – civil actions, legal actions, clean up costs, closure of buildings all equate to a serious financial as well as possible reputational costs. An effective management system should include contingency plans, procedures, dedicated responsible people who are aware of there responsibilities, ongoing reviews and checks and importantly training. A good survey is an essential part of this management process, providing the basis for your asbestos register. The new guidance enables you to understand survey requirements.

● Steve Mills is a Consultant at Elementus

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