Here’s a very dry fact: every company that works in any area where there is the potential to come into contact with asbestos has a duty of care to protect those people in the working environment.

So it’s a tick box exercise, isn’t it? Just do the training, get the accreditation – box ticked.

NO!

This came up recently when we were with a property management company, doing their annual strategy review.

We’d helped them to develop their asbestos strategy originally – exploring every aspect of asbestos safety and handling. Now it was time to check that the paper procedures actually matched up with reality.

The conversation was around doing an asbestos survey prior to the trades team going into a property to carry out a refurb. The client pointed out that there is no legislation that says domestic property has to have a survey, because it isn’t a commercial transaction.

However, instructing a contractor to go into the property makes it a commercial transaction and the management company now has a duty of care to ensure the contractor isn’t exposed.

The next question was, “But what if the work is confined to just painting and removing carpets?” 

As long as you are sure there will be no contact with asbestos that’s fine, but how do you know there’s no asbestos involved? Until you take up a carpet you can’t know what’s underneath, many floor tiles used to be made using asbestos. Crumbly old floor tiles underneath the carpet could be an asbestos risk. If you’re just painting the walls you’re probably safe enough, but if you’re sanding, filling holes, resurfacing, you can’t be certain that your crew won’t come into contact with asbestos.

That makes sense – but surely the contractor is responsible for their own team’s safety?

Ah, yes – and does every member of that contractor’s team have an asbestos awareness qualification? After all, you wouldn’t let an electrician work on your project without checking they had appropriate qualifications, would you?

That added another item to the company’s contractor checklist – to ensure that box can be ticked. That means that the checklist needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure qualifications and certification are up-to-date.

With a dozen refurbishments being done each month, asbestos surveys need to be an active part of each one, before work kicks off. At the end of the day – the buck stops with the company managing the process.

And the moral of this tale is that annual surveys are more than a paper exercise – they’ve got to match procedures with what happens in the real world.