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Health and Safety Services

 Asbestos policy and guidance

1. Preamble.
This document is intended to be a simple Policy and Guidance document for staff of Birkbeck College. In addition, Birkbeck's Estates Department has a detailed Asbestos Plan produced by external consultants that is intended for issue to contractors working for Birkbeck. The asbestos plan sets out exactly what contractors can expect at and from Birkbeck and also what is expected of them.

2. Asbestos and its dangers
There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises. These are commonly called blue asbestos (crocidolite), brown asbestos (amosite) and white asbestos (chrysotile) All are dangerous but the blue and brown are more so than the white. They cannot be identified just by their colour. Asbestos containing materials (ACM) were used in the construction of buildings from the early years of the 20th century until 1980. Accordingly, with the exception of the Clore Building and the new parts of the Main Building, other Birkbeck buildings may very well have ACM present due to construction or repair over the years.

Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases, mainly cancers of the lung and chest lining. There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease of 15-60 years.

3. Legislation
There are several pieces of legislation covering the use of ACMs. The most recent is the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006. See: These regulations include the requirement on employers to 'manage' the asbestos in their buildings. In summary, such management involves:

Find out if ACM or suspected ACM are present - carry out a survey.

Assume that materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that it does not.

Check the condition of of the materials.

Identify - If the material is in poor condition or maintenance or refurbishment is to take place arrange for the material to be sampled and identified.

Record the location and condition of the ACM and assumed ACM on a plan or drawing.

Assess whether the condition or location means the material is likely to be disturbed.

Monitor the condition of ACM and assumed ACM to check on possible deterioration.

Plan: prepare and implement a plan to manage these risks

4. Management of asbestos at Birkbeck
4.1 The mangement of ACMs in the fabric of buildings is primarily the responsibility of the Estates Department. Estates takes all appropriate steps to comply with asbestos related legislation, approved codes of practice and standards. In particular it seeks to ensure that any work involving ACM will not lead to any person being exposed to greater than legally stated 'control' levels of asbestos fibres in air.

4.2 Other departments must not to carry out any work on the fabric of any building or engage contractors to do so without due consultation with the Estates Department regarding the possible presence of ACMs in case such work leads to accidental asbestos fibre release from drilling, cutting or breaking ACMs.

4.3 All staff have a duty to report any damage to asbestos materials or to materials suspected of containing asbestos to the Estates.

4.4 The Estates Department at Birkbeck follows the procedures set out in the management summary in (2) above. A survey of Birkbeck buildings has been carried out and suspected ACMs have been sampled, identified and recorded by an approved asbestos survey team. The Estates Department maintains an asbestos register of 'what is where'. ACM considered to be in poor condition has been removed by licensed contractors.

4.5 Remaining ACMs, not considered to be a risk, are labelled where practical, sealed/encapsulated where practical, monitored at reasonable intervals (the Operational Estates manager arranges for such monitoring) and removed when convenient or when noted to be deteriorating unacceptably.

4.6 The replacement, removal, sealing and major work to asbestos containing materials is carried out by licensed contractors engaged solely by the the Estates Department. All such work is carried out in accordance with legal requirements and HSE codes of practice. The Estates Department makes the arrangements for air sampling/clearance certificates.

4.7 Remaining ACMs sustaining minor damage will be repaired, labelled, resealed/encapsulated and monitored at reasonable intervals.

4.8 If maintenance or refurbishment works are to take place where ACM is known to be present, this is either removed before work commences if necessary or the presence of the ACM is brought to the attention of the contractor or maintenance staff so as to prevent inadvertent contact and potential damage.

4.9 When buildings are shut down for major refurbishment or change of occupancy, then the possibility of more extensive ACM replacement programmes will be considered.

4.10 In accordance with the regulations prohibiting the supply, import and use of asbestos and asbestos based products, the University does not purchase any such products or materials.  An exception in relation to the use of asbestos for the purposes of scientific research may be permitted.

5. Guidance for maintenance staff
5.1 Maintenance work may involve encounters with asbestos such as: lagging on pipes and boilers; insulation board in walls on doors and ceilings; asbestos cement for roof and wall covering pipes and tanks; in some decorative plaster. The area in which staff are to work should be checked against the survey register. Suitable asbestos training courses have been provided for Estates maintenance staff.

5.2 If any material or dust is uncovered and it is suspected to be ACM, staff are to assume it is asbestos until determined otherwise - Stop work and get advice.

5.3 The HSE has issued safe working practice guidance for working on small amounts of asbestos containing material.  However, these only apply after a suitable and sufficient risk assessment by a competent person which determines that 'control limits' (see below) will not be exceeded.  The relevant HSE guidance can be seen at: and

6. Procedure for uncontrolled fibre release
Where an incident arises that may have resulted in an uncontrolled release of asbestos into the work place at a concentration that might have exceeded the appropriate control limit, e.g. removing pipe lagging subsequently revealed to be asbestos, the following procedures will be implemented:
i. The area should be immediately evacuated and steps taken to secure the affected area from re-entry of unauthorised persons.
ii. Estates managers and the College Safety Officer and must be notified as soon as possible in order that the cause can be firmly established.
iii. Specialist contractors will undertake air sampling and microscopic examination to determine fibre in air levels and the type of asbestos fibres - if any.
iv Specialist contractors will be employed to thoroughly clean all visible debris and dust.
v. On completion, air sampling will again be carried out and if satisfactory a clearance certificate will be issued.
vi. The employer is obliged to keep health records for the affected persons. Such records must be kept for at least 40 years. A record of any exposure to asbestos above legal action limits will be placed on any affected employee's personnel file. A copy of the record will be sent to the employee instructing him that it should be retained indefinitely.

7. Some key points from the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (CAWR)
Note: It is envisaged that only licenced contractors will carry out any work on asbestos at Birkbeck.

i. Other than for short term work on a small amount of asbestos or in some circumstances for limited work in an employer's own workplace by the employers's own workforce, a licence from the HSE is required to work with asbestos.

ii. The HSE or LA must be notified before commencing work (usually 14 days) that requires a licence.

iii CAWR require that exposure to asbestos be prevented or reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable, and are designed to protect anyone at risk from work with asbestos. The Regulations set 'control limits'

iv. To decide whether or not a 'control limit' will be exceeded it is first necessary to know what airborne fibre exposures are likely to be encountered. There are approved methods of estimating probable exposure levels.

v. Worker exposure must be below the airborne exposure limit (Control Limit). The Asbestos Regulations have a single Control Limit for all types of asbestos of 0.1 fibres per cm3.  A Control Limit is a maximum concentration of asbestos fibres in the air (averaged over any continuous 4 hour period) that must not be exceeded.

In addition, short term exposures must be strictly controlled and worker exposure should not exceed 0.6 fibres per cm3 of air averaged over any continuous 10 minute period using respiratory protective equipment if exposure cannot be reduced sufficiently using other means. 

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Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: