Eighty per cent of those who are employed in the construction trades, such as builders, plumbers, electricians, plasterers and tilers, run the highest risk of asbestos exposure along with property clearance / demolition services and members of the public.

A particular challenge can be the management and disposal of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) when found in public or commercial premises, most often in schools, hospitals and retail stores, which is known to often bring confusion over proper management of exposure risk.

Those responsible for non-domestic premises are required to know about the location, condition and the management of ACMs on their premises, with an asbestos register and management plan available for each building on site.

Despite the many asbestos awareness initiatives by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and construction trade associations a quarter of site contractors appear to be unaware they have come into direct contact with asbestos and only a third of claim to be aware that they have disturbed asbestos during their work.

Promoting good practice

In September, the Retail Asbestos Working Group (RAWG) published a document entitled ‘The Management of Asbestos Containing Materials in the Retail Sector’, which is aimed at promoting good-practice by providing guidance to retailers and site contractors in carrying out their duties under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012.

The guidance has been developed in association with the HSE, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and RAWG, a group of forward-thinking organisations and bodies that operate in the retail sector, including ASDA, Boots UK, Land Securities and Marks & Spencer.

The 54 page document offers an instructive approach of how retailers should undertake the management of asbestos during normal working hours and when maintenance and building works need to be carried out.

Clear and straightforward advice is given about both asbestos management and removal and also outlines the steps that should be taken by clients, employers, licensed asbestos removal contractors and other sub-contractors, who have a duty to ensure that asbestos is removed or worked on safely.

Types of retail premises

The guidance makes particular reference to the most prevalent types of retail premises, which are most likely to contain hidden asbestos:

  • A small independent retailer on the high street
  • An independent retailer who owns an average of four shops
  • A large retailer who owns around 250 retail stores in the UK.

Renovation work

In addition, case studies are detailed which refer to most common renovation work involving asbestos insulation board (AIB), tiles and sheeting:

  • The removal of a single AIB ceiling tile from a shop floor area
  • Dealing with failed leak air tests during an asbestos removal contract
  • Dealing with damaged AIB in a shop area
  • Dealing with a damaged ACM outside the shop or store
  • Dealing with fly tipped asbestos cement sheets found outside the shop
  • Investigating incidents and the spread of contamination

It has been estimated that there’s probably half a million commercial as well as residential premises constructed or renovated up until the 1990s at least, which still contain undiscovered ACMs. Once asbestos is disturbed and fibre dust breathed in, the fibres embed in the lung linings, eventually causing asbestosis disease or the rare but fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

Click here to download  ‘The Management of Asbestos Containing Materials in the Retail Sector’ PDF from the British Retail Consortium website.