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The threat of asbestos to builders: an overview

December 4, 2017

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, sharing something called an asbestiform habit, meaning they have long, thin, fibrous crystals. Each visible fibre comprises millions of microscopic ‘fibrils’ which abrasion and similar processes will release. These are typically known by their colours – blue, brown or white asbestos.

Asbestos is found in numerous materials commonly used in the building trade. It may also be in things like lagging or roofing felt, or in a loose form in a ceiling or floor cavity.

It’s a notoriously tricky thing to identify, since it can often be mixed with other materials.

A brief history

More than four thousand years ago, this substance was already being mined. However, mining on a large-scale started as the nineteenth century was ending, after asbestos’s desirable physical qualities, from sound absorption to strength, fire resistance and affordability, were noticed. It was also used in electrical and building insulation. Often, the fibres would be mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats.

Indeed, such was its popularity the material was once dubbed ‘miraculous’.

When was it banned?

It was banned in the UK in all its forms in August 1999, when the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott signed the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999. It became law three months later, five years ahead of the European deadline.

By 1999, in any case, chrystotile was the only kind of asbestos allowed in the UK since the 1985 banning of amosite and crocidolite.

And the most perilous type of asbestos hasn’t been used here since the 1970s, when a voluntary industry ban came into effect. Even where it was used, only those working in particular sectors came into close contact with it – including carpentry, ship building and construction.

What the 1999 complete ban means is that if a building was completed in or after 2000, it is unlikely to have any asbestos. But if you are unsure of when a structure was finished, you should assume it is present. Equally, some brownfield sites may have buried asbestos and it may also still be present in old equipment such as fire blankets or soundproofing.

The dangers to builders

The reality is that most builders, at some point during their working lives, are likely to find themselves on a site where asbestos is present.

Asbestos is completely toxic as far as the human circulatory system is concerned. Indeed, it can very frequently be fatal. Moving or otherwise disturbing the fibres makes them airborne so that they can be inhaled and will sit in a person’s system, often for years on end. There are no symptoms and no way of knowing you’ve inhaled the fibres, until, perhaps years or even decades later, when the threads give rise to a typically life-threatening condition from which it’s all but impossible to make a recovery.

In almost every case of mesothelioma, for example, an incurable cancer affecting the lining of the lung, the cause can be traced to asbestos exposure. Despite the asbestos legislation now in place, there are more mesothelioma deaths in the UK than in any other country in the world, with more than double the number of deaths from this than motor vehicle accidents.

Any builder working on a site known to contain asbestos is putting themselves at risk, if the correct precautions are not taken or relevant information is not available or provided. Just demolishing a structure disturbs the fibres and puts workers at risk of inhaling them.

So all firms carrying out building at a site thought to contain asbestos need to ensure a proper specialist survey is completed before anyone sets foot on the site (a Refurbishment / Demolition Asbestos Survey).

What to do if you come across potential asbestos

The first thing to do is to stop work immediately on any site where there’s even a possibility of asbestos presence and the relevant information has not been provided. Either confirm what the substance is, by using a UKAS accredited asbestos surveying company, or assume it is asbestos and conduct a risk assessment. This will help you to decide whether the work should be completed by a licensed contractor. Only those with the right information, instruction and training should carry out non-licensed work in asbestos.

More information

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a comprehensive area of its website where you can find out more about asbestos.

Visit it here:

Get an asbestos survey

So, clearly, this is not a substance you can afford to take any chances with, especially in the building trade. An asbestos survey is an essential part in protecting yourself and others.

At Core Surveys, based in Fletching Common, East Sussex and Monmouthshire, South Wales, we’re ideally placed to serve customers across London, the South East, Wales and the South West. We’re fully accredited to undertake all types of asbestos inspections and testing, while also providing asbestos management surveys and awareness training. Our clients include everyone from homeowners to charities and large organisations – we help them comply with the latest guidance and legislation on asbestos. Talk to a member of the team today to find out more.

Poor quality asbestos surveys could cost schools millions

November 23, 2017

Some of the sites the government is buying for free schools don’t have current asbestos surveys, meaning the taxpayer could have to fit a potential bill of millions for the necessary refurbishments once asbestos is discovered later on, Schools Week reports.

Experts have said that because the Education Funding Agency (EFA) is ‘under pressure’ to find sites for free schools, the resulting surveys of ‘varying quality’ haven‘t always identified all asbestos in all school buildings.

And John McClean, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, says ‘political pressure’ to find school sites means the EFA has to rely on ‘rushed’ site surveys.

Yet, just last year, minister for vulnerable children Edward Timpson insisted the EFA should complete asbestos surveys before a site was purchased ‘if further investigation’ was deemed necessary.

Now it’s being reported that at least six schools had the green light from the EFA without a proper survey having been done. Freedom of Information requests revealed that a number asked for more money after asbestos was subsequently discovered.

What’s more, the bill for removing asbestos can run to as much as £5m. A school must then be made serviceable once more before pupils can move back in.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the Asbestos In Schools steering group, described the government’s ‘failure’ to carry out appropriate asbestos survey work at all pre-2000 sites (i.e. before the year when the carcinogenic substance was banned) as ‘grossly negligent’. She added that schools were potentially also risking staff and pupils’ health.

Schools in Blackburn, Bournemouth and Bradford were found to have extensive or high-risk asbestos on their sites. In Nottingham, the EFA gave an institution the go-ahead before a survey found white asbestos around pipework and floor debris, although this was removed before students moved in.

Better surveys from the outset, along with competent asbestos awareness training for staff, would save money and be less disruptive in the long run by removing all asbestos at an earlier stage.

The Department for Education stressed that the government was investing £23bn in school buildings by 2021, which ‘would help manage asbestos safely’.  It also says it is changing the way information about asbestos is collected in schools to enhance understanding.

At Core Surveys, we find reports like this worrying and believe they firmly highlight the need for high-quality, effective asbestos refurbishment and demolition surveys carried out at an early stage of any building project, whether it’s a refurbishment or new build, for a school or any other type of premises.

With more than four decades’ combined experience in the asbestos survey industry, we’re specialist consultants in this field for asbestos management surveys, refurbishment and demolition surveys. Core Surveys are UKAS accredited to ISO17020 for undertaking asbestos surveys and all samples are analysed at our in-house laboratory which is UKAS accredited to ISO17025. We are also UKAS accredited for asbestos air monitoring during and following asbestos removal, which means we are perfectly placed to offer the full asbestos consultancy package from survey through to project management and sign-off of asbestos removal, ensuring that you comply with the law at all times.

A good survey, carried out at the right time, will save your organisation money in the long run. Talk to us today.

Asbestos refurbishment surveys: why they’re important

November 8, 2017

Asbestos-related health conditions are ‘silent killers’ which take the lives of more people than road accidents do. Indeed, there are no asbestos fibres which can be classed as safe – all can lead to the same diseases and so are treated equally under UK legislation and guidance.

At the turn of the millennium, this carcinogenic substance was outlawed for new builds, but because anything built before then could contain it, asbestos refurbishment surveys must be done on structures built Pre 2000. This also keeps contractors, builders and anyone else working on or visiting a property safe.

What does a Management and a Refurbishment Survey do?

An asbestos survey will highlight whether a property has any asbestos material, as far as reasonably practicable. And, if you own a non-domestic building, you’re legally obliged to make sure it’s handled properly and not disturbed. Safe handling of asbestos is vital to keep the risk of exposing occupants to fibres as low as possible.

Management asbestos surveys are non-intrusive, visual inspections at which samples of relevant materials are taken for testing at an accredited lab. Core Surveys have their own in-house asbestos testing laboratory, accredited to UKAS ISO17025.

In contrast, refurbishment surveys are described as ‘intrusive and destructive’, and locate all asbestos-containing materials before a place is refurbished, whether that’s a whole building or part of a structure.

One is needed even if you have already identified where you have asbestos in a particular structure and will examine relevant material, and the surrounding areas which could also have asbestos, including walls and ceilings.

Where a building is to be completely demolished, a different kind of survey, again clearly a destructive one, is carried out known as a demolition survey.

Whatever kind of survey your property needs, it’s vital that this work is carried out by a professional, experienced asbestos surveyor able to identify asbestos-containing materials safely.

Finally, it’s clearly also important that your asbestos survey is done early on, before any refurbishment work starts.

At Core Surveys we’re specialist consultants in management, refurbishment and demolition surveys. We’re UKAS accredited (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) to ISO17020 for undertaking asbestos surveys, and all samples are analysed at our in-house laboratory, UKAS accredited to ISO17025.

We’re also UKAS accredited for asbestos air monitoring during and following asbestos removal, which means we are perfectly placed to offer a full asbestos consultancy package from survey through to project management and sign-off of asbestos removal, ensuring that you comply with the law at all times. Get in touch now.


February 5, 2015

Core Surveys are looking for Asbestos Surveyors / Analysts (4 Stage Clearance) / Bulk ID analysts – Multiple Vacancies.

We are looking for enthusiastic people to join our team, with one or more the following P401 / P402 / P403 / S301 / CoCA, together with relevant industry experience.

Salary range £18,000 – £28,000 plus benefits depending on role applied for, qualifications and level of experience.

All positions would be based out of our East Sussex office near Lewes.

For further details call 01273 401156 or email

Guiding You Through The Asbestos Maze

January 7, 2015

Infographics for Consultant Selection, Project Planning and Asbestos Management 

With over 40 years combined experience in the asbestos industry, our team of specialist consultants are always on hand to share our expertise and knowledge through advice, information and training.  Together, we have devised three infographics, each relating to a specific topic which clients frequently enquire about.

Read more

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