Laura King speaks with Graham Warren, ACAD Manager, about how to pick a contractor to remove asbestos waste, as well as your responsibilities as a client.

According to the HSE, asbestos still causes the most work-related deaths in the UK. When working with such a dangerous material, selecting the right contractor is not a decision to be taken lightly, and with so many companies to choose from it can be hard to know what to look for.

ACAD (Asbestos Control and Abatement Division) is a not-for-profit trade association which supports and represents companies working throughout the asbestos industry. Here, Graham Warren, ACAD Manager, goes through some of the things you can do to make sure you pick a good contractor, and also your responsibilities as a client to make sure that the work runs smoothly.

What should you check for when choosing an asbestos removal contractor?

Membership of a trade association is one way to check that a company is credible. Membership does not just mean that companies have ticked a few boxes; it also means that they have to meet — and importantly, maintain — high standards. Trade associations such as ACAD will conduct both planned and unplanned audits of their members to ensure high standards and provide client reassurance. Moreover, membership of an association means that a company is not operating in isolation.

“Trade association membership means they will be up to date on all the latest developments from HSE, have access to technical advice and support when required, and are regularly audited by a respected organisation” explained Graham.

His second suggestion was to ask for, and check, references. “You should also look for previous experience of similar work and follow up references.  Ideally, an asbestos contractor should give you a list of similar clients and let you decide who you want to pick as a reference.”

What are the signs of a good contractor?

“Openness and transparency” are key, Graham suggests. This not only means finding a contractor that can provide references, it also means working with someone who will challenge you as a client if they have to.

Also look for companies that are investing in their staff and providing training. The HSE is very clear that anyone carrying out work on asbestos-containing materials must be suitably trained and supervised, and so finding a company that is dedicated to ensuring its staff are skilled and competent is clearly important.

In particular, he recommends looking out for companies “who have invested in their site teams and embarked on the new NVQ path to obtain CSCS-affiliated ACAD Skill Cards”.

In January 2015, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) agreed that cards carrying the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) logo should be specified and promoted by all, and that all such cards must meet the new minimum standard for skilled occupations of NVQ Level 2. The asbestos industry is no different, and so all new cards issued by ACAD (or a second scheme by ARCA with the same underpinning requirements) adhere to the CLC decision. These cards should be specified by clients requiring asbestos removal work.

What are your responsibilities?

Although as a client you are not expected to be an expert in asbestos work or construction, you will have to work closely with your contractor, and will need to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place. As to be expected, this takes considerable resources. As the person in control of procurement, you are able to set the standard for the contract: ensuring that the project is sufficiently funded is one critical aspect. However, another aspect is time: as the client you will have responsibilities before, during and after the work and it is important that consideration is given to how the project will be managed.

“The planning stage for any asbestos job is critical to ensuring it progresses to plan with no unexpected events” said Graham. Essential to this is clearly scoping the contract and an initial site visit. “A site meeting will take place where the extent of the work is clearly defined, together with any particular risks or characteristics of the site — these will feed into the asbestos contractor’s risk assessment from which they will formulate their plan of work.”

Items to cover during this meeting include access, site hazards, emergency procedures and who else will be on site. You will also be responsible for liaising within your own organisation to make sure everyone is aware of what work is taking place. This includes being ready to answer any questions or concerns from employees about their safety while work is taking place. In this regard, do not be afraid to ask for help. “Licence holders will be able to help and advise a client with this” suggests Graham.

Prior to work, it is also likely that you will be involved in isolating the relevant electrical, gas and water supplies to ensure work can be carried out. This needs to be done properly and an isolation certificate will need to be provided to the contactor. Arranging the appropriate isolations is not always an easy job, and Graham recommends investing enough time to ensure it has been done correctly.

Before work takes place, clients should also do the following.

  • Review the notification of asbestos work (ASB5) sent to the HSE, risk assessment and plan of work.

  • Volunteer their representative to witness the contractor’s smoke test. This could be themselves or their independent analyst.

  • Employ an independent asbestos analyst to conduct leak tests during the project (if the building is still occupied) and to certify the work area “fit for reoccupation” after asbestos removal work has taken place.

During the work, an audit could also be carried out.

Where the knowledge or resource does not exist in-house, expertise can be brought in from trade associations or external contractors. It is critical that these parties are directly employed and independent — their recommendations could have significant implications, and so it is imperative that there is no perceived or actual conflict of interest.

On completion, waste consignment notes should be collected and kept to provide proof that the waste has been properly disposed of, and the certificate for reoccupation also needs to be reviewed and kept.

And, finally, “don’t forget to update your asbestos register to record the work that has taken place”, notes Graham, adding that: “any residual asbestos referenced will need to be managed by the client on its asbestos register”. Even though the work is completed, this administration is critical to make sure that the audit trail is properly captured and that any remaining asbestos continues to be appropriately managed.

Conclusions

  • When picking a contractor look to see that they can provide references for similar work, are a member of a trade association and are committed to training staff.

  • Make sure that the project is properly resourced as you also have responsibilities that will take time as well as finance.

  • Directly employ an independent analyst if leak tests need to be conducted, as well as to certify the work area fit for reoccupation.

  • Undertake audits while the work is taking place, and use consultants or trade associations if there is not the time or expertise in-house.

  • When the work is completed check that all asbestos in scope has been removed and update the asbestos register.

The Croner-i Asbestos topic contains more information about how to manage asbestos, and whether work has to be undertaken by a licensed contractor.

Last reviewed 30 September 2019