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Do I need an asbestos survey? Here’s everything you need to know.

If you are about to take on a refurbishment project, you might be asking yourself "do I need an asbestos survey"? The short answer is, yes, you very likely do. A survey is needed whenever a premise (or even part of it) needs refurbishment, upgrading, or demolition.

To put it into context, asbestos was only banned in the UK 24 years ago, and there are still over one and a half million buildings containing asbestos in the UK. The only sure-fire way to avoid a nasty surprise after work has begun is with a thorough survey delivered by a UKAS-accredited surveyor.

Asbestos surveys keep your clients and work colleagues safe, prevent project costs from spiralling out of control, and ensure that you are compliant to HSE guidelines. If you miss this important step, you'll find yourself with no shortage of problems, from lengthy delays to prosecution and severe fines.

That’s the short answer. For the long answer to your question, read on to get to grips with the full legal, financial and time-planning implications that asbestos can cause – as well as expert advice on how a survey can help you to save time, money and reputation.

Why do I need an asbestos survey? Legal requirements made simple

Asbestos is everywhere.

While its use in construction was banned in 1999 in the UK, this means that any building erected before 2000 may contain it. It’s not unlikely that you’ve lived, worked or entered a building containing asbestos recently. We’re even familiar with stories of older generations having played with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) as children before we knew of the harm it could cause.

Knowing what we know now, however, why do we not remove it from every building?

Sometimes, asbestos can be found in a condition where it can be safely monitored and ‘managed’. In other cases, however, refurbishment or demolition work likely to disturb asbestos in a poor condition requires that it be removed first.

Without conducting a survey, you don’t know where asbestos may be on your site – or if it’s in a dangerous condition. This is why the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations require that dutyholders, carry out asbestos surveys on all commercial properties.

Tip: From a business standpoint, the question should be ‘when is an asbestos survey required’, not if.

Do I need an asbestos survey to find asbestos on my site?

Now you know why you need it, the next question is: where might you find it?

Before it was banned, asbestos was used in over 5,000 different building products, from sprayed coatings and insulating boards to tiles and pipework. It’s even been found mixed into concrete flooring, woven into textile wraps and built behind boiler plates.

When you have experience in managing refurbishment projects, you can start to hazard a guess at where asbestos might be. However, it’s not a gamble you can afford to get wrong. Finding it mid-project will bring your work to a standstill and potentially endanger the health of your team and your clients.

This is why, when you carry out an asbestos survey, you need a qualified partner to not only survey your site with proper equipment but also to ensure that your worksite is left safe after the survey is conducted, ready for you to seamlessly return to work.

Surveying and reporting on the presence of asbestos isn’t just a matter of ticking a box – it's essential to show that you have done your due diligence, and that you are ‘competent’ in the eyes of the law. Managing the process seamlessly can also provide a significant boost to your reputation.

Tip: Even if you know when you should check for asbestos, you need to be able to trust your surveyor. UKAS accreditation to ISO 17020 (such as AEC possesses) is the highest standard of quality you can find in an asbestos surveyor. Upcoming changes to the law may require you to choose a surveyor with this certification soon.

Do you need an asbestos survey – and can you avoid the inevitable delays?

When should you check for asbestos in your project life cycle? In simple terms, work shouldn’t start until you have surveyed your site for asbestos – so book your survey as early as possible. How long it will take depends on your site, but book it at the start of your schedule and you can get on with the rest of your planning and purchasing materials while it takes place.

A common misconception is that asbestos surveying delays a project, but really, it’s a critical part of it. Miss this step and you’ll face far longer (and more expensive) delays if you find asbestos on-site. Hit unexpected asbestos, and you won’t be able to get to work until you receive the green light from HSE. That’s means delaying the work deadline you’ve promised to the client, and paying standing time to contractors that could be working on other projects.

With surveying, you can prevent the disruption caused by a chance encounter with asbestos – and it’s always better than finding asbestos mid-project.

Time and time again, we see contractors and project managers try to cut corners in a bid to save time and costs, particularly when a client has deemed the project urgent, or a previous project has overrun. Yet in the worst-case scenario, a team can start the intrusive work in the morning, and by evening, they have fifty builder’s bags worth of asbestos-contaminated rubble to deal with. As well as a potential fine by HSE, that material all needs to be cleaned and removed – and your team can’t get to work until the site is deemed safe.

Tip: Finding asbestos mid-project can cause project costs to spiral out of control. If you require an immediate answer on a building material. We can take a sample* of suspect material from your worksite for analysis by AEC for as little as £7 and can give you vital information about the presence of asbestos on your site. *It is important to note, that a full survey should be undertaken in advance of your work starting

Legal requirements and smart budget management aside, the biggest reason behind our work is to ensure your safety. Asbestos fibres in construction dust form the largest occupational cancer hazard in the UK, responsible for over 5,000 deaths a year. When it comes to asbestos surveying, there’s no time to lose – and with a plan in place, surveying makes your project run far more efficiently.

Do you need an asbestos survey for your next refurbishment or demolition project? Then, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

AEC has over 25 years’ experience in conducting asbestos surveys, and we complete over 2,500 surveys a year on behalf of businesses in the UK and beyond. We deliver ISO 17025- accredited sample testing in our own laboratories in Essex and Manchester, and we can deliver a comprehensive suite of services, from simple air quality tests to full project management, as well as providing IATP-certified training for contractors in asbestos management.

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