Asbestos: Where Are We Now?

Posted on October 6, 2016
Archive : October 2016
Category : GO SAFE
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Despite being long banned for use in the UK construction industry, asbestos is not only a problem of the past but is with us today. On average 20 tradesmen are believed to die every week as a result of exposure to this deadly material. Whilst the effects don’t show immediately, breathing in asbestos fibres can lead to serious health issues like lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural thickening. Chris Swainston, Principal Environmental Engineer at Geotechnics Limited, takes a look at how recent guidance is tackling this hidden killer. 

The law in relation to asbestos last changed significantly in 2012 with the Control of Asbestos Regulations update. Previous legislation related only to asbestos found in buildings, but this revision ensured that it covered asbestos found in land and soil as well. This is an increasingly important issue, as the amount of asbestos used in construction before the ban means that you may still come across it frequently on brownfield sites where demolition has occurred.

In response to the update, there have been various industry-led initiatives which are part of an ongoing process to determine the potential risks. In 2012, the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) produced its interim guidance on asbestos legislation (available free at This was largely based on risk assessments and working methods developed by Geotechnics Limited for the protection of its own staff on site and in the laboratory.

March 2014 saw the release of CIRIA’s guide to understanding and managing the risks of asbestos in soil and made ground (C733). This was aimed largely at the construction industry, and does a very good job of detailing and summarising the background, legal cases and key factors regarding risk assessments. However, it does not provide a methodology to undertake effective risk assessments. There is no UK-wide agreed methodology for creating risk assessments for asbestos in soils. SoBRA (Society for Brownfield Risk Assessment) have suggested several methodologies to the Joint Industries Working Group (JIWG), but so far none have become standard or agreed practice. This situation may soon change though. At the time of writing, the JIWG is still developing a Code of Practice, and CIRIA is developing a site guide for asbestos in soil (RP105).

Whilst awaiting this guidance, the JIWG have teamed up with CL:AIRE (Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments) to offer a way of determining if a works package is subject to asbestos licencing. You can download their decision tree and accompanying document free on the CL:AIRE website. In the meantime, Geotechnics Limited will continue to do all it can to ensure that none of its staff or those operating on its sites fall victim to asbestos exposure.

In the coming weeks, Geotechnics Limited will release new checklists and flowcharts to help workers understand how to protect themselves both on site and in our laboratory. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest from our #GOSAFE campaign.