Asbestos related illnesses are still on the increase
Asbestos found in domestic properties is not a threat if Regulations and Good
Practice are observed
It is only a "danger" if suspected ACM is damaged
It is still found in properties built as recently as 2001.
Sampling and Analysis are good practice before Removal is undertaken; this is
likely to significantly reduce Indemnity spend
Ignore the issue at your peril!
To many in the insurance industry, the mention of asbestos, is linked with a perception of
problems from the past, whereas in fact deaths from asbestos related illness are not
expected to peak for at least another 10 years. Many believe that use of asbestos
occurred mostly in the US, however in the UK asbestos was also used extensively and we
have consequently experienced a large number of asbestos related claims. Finally there is
an understanding that asbestos is only found in heavy industry or commercial buildings,
but in fact over 2 million homes in the UK are still believed to have some asbestos
containing materials or ACMs.
Unlike commercial buildings, in domestic dwellings there is no legal duty to identify or
manage the asbestos that may be present. For that reason dealing with asbestos as part of
a domestic building repair claim can be problematical, particularly in an emergency
situation. We will examine the legislation that governs the handling of asbestos; where
asbestos is most likely to be found in a domestic property; how it should be identified and
if present how it should be treated. With a proper set of processes and procedures in
place, enforced across the entire supply chain, asbestos can be dealt with efficiently and
economically. However as many insurers have found, without proper guidelines poorly
handled asbestos issues can result in massive cost leakage and exposure to large liability
A Heavily Regulated Field
Not surprisingly contact with asbestos, a potentially deadly material, is surrounded by
“red tape”. Until recently there were a number of government acts that addressed
different areas of asbestos legislation. In November 2006 the Control of Asbestos
Regulations (CAR) was introduced, with the aim of updating and bringing everything under
one roof and removing any grey areas that had previously existed. CAR 2006 and the
Approved Code of Practices or ACOPs for short, contain everything that insurers and their
suppliers needs to comply with in order to stay on the right side of the law. The overriding
principles of CAR2006 can be summarised in four key points
- Reg 10 states that anyone working or influencing work on the fabric of a building must
receive Asbestos Awareness training to a level appropriate to the type of work they
- The ACOPs state that suspected ACMs must be positively identified through sampling
and analysis or must be presumed to contain Asbestos.
- Reg16 states that everything must be done to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos
and asbestos fibres from spreading
- Reg 11 concludes that the minimum number of people possible should be exposed to
One final point worth mentioning is the legal situation surrounding decorative textured
coatings sometimes referred to by the trade name of “Artex”. The legal status of textured
coatings changed with the introduction of CAR2006. Textured coatings were re-classified
as “non-licensed” materials, meaning that it was no longer legally necessary for a
Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractor to be appointed to work with this product. However
many in the insurance industry misinterpret the legislation to mean that textured coatings
have been effectively de-classified therefore no longer contain asbestos and so
consequently no longer require testing or specialist removal. This is not the case and
textured coatings must still be dealt with as diligently as other more dangerous forms of
When and Where
Asbestos can be found in many areas within a property depending on the age and type of
building. Those onsite workers that are legally compliant, ie have attended asbestos
awareness training will have been taught all of the different locations where asbestos can
be found. The fact that asbestos is present in a building does not mean that it is
necessarily dangerous or that it needs to be automatically removed.
The threat from asbestos is the release of microscopic, cancer causing fibres that when
breathed in attach to the lungs and do not break down. So if asbestos is in good condition
with the surfaces intact or encapsulated then there is no immediate danger. It is only
when asbestos becomes damaged that it becomes potentially dangerous. Asbestos
containing materials are rated for risk based on the kind of asbestos that is present and
how well bonded it is within the overall material. The more friable the product the more
likely that fibres will detach and become airborne so therefore the higher the risk.
For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on two materials that between them
account for over 95% of asbestos in homes, the previously mentioned decorative textured
coatings and vinyl floor tiles often referred to by the trade name “Marley” tiles. Textured
coatings are easily spotted but vinyl floor tiles are usually hidden underneath other
flooring treatments such as underlay and carpet or laminate. Vinyl floor tiles were
extensively used as a base layer and a form of damp protection prior to other floors being
laid on top.
Both textured coatings and vinyl floor tiles share a number of characteristics:
- It is possible to visually identify them but impossible by visual inspection to determine
whether or not they contain asbestos.
- The type of asbestos if present will be Chrysotile often called white asbestos.
- The asbestos is very bonded within the matrix of the material so is considered a lower
- Although both are non-licensed products they must still be dealt with appropriately
One other misconception to debunk is that of the age of the property and when asbestos
was actually banned and the answer may well surprise you. The blue and brown forms of
asbestos most often found in industrial applications were banned in the 1980’s but white
asbestos often used in Artex or Marley floor tiles was not restricted until 1992. Even then,
the ban was far from total and still allowed chyrsotile containing products to be imported
from overseas. It was only in 1999 that the use of all asbestos, apart from very specialist
uses, was banned in the UK. With the lengthy shelf life of textured coatings and floor tiles
a good rule of thumb is to sample all textured coating and vinyl floor tiles applied prior to
The Need for Speed
The typical scenario is an escape of water or flood claim where a ceiling or floor has itself
become damaged or will need to be disturbed in order to effect a comprehensive repair.
As we have established, the ceiling or the floor may or may not contain asbestos so what
are the next steps that must be taken?
Irrespective of how much information has been recorded on the first notice of loss it is
unlikely that the presence of potential ACMs will have been noted. Therefore the first
person to visit the property an inspector, adjuster, contractor or often in the case of
water related claim a restoration company must perform a visual inspection in order to
determine if any potential ACMs are present. In the event that a potential ACM is
identified, it must be sampled and the samples must be analysed by a UKAS laboratory
prior to any further work being undertaken.
Getting samples taken and analysed can often cause long delays as another supplier would
need to be appointed and in turn schedule a convenient time to visit and take the samples
before they were processed by a lab. Delays of a week or more can be the norm and
during this time policyholders were forced to stay in a potentially hazardous environment
becoming more and more frustrated as no progress on the repair was evident. Increasingly
the first person to visit site has now been trained and is able to “self-sample” on that first
visit and get the sample analysed and the result back within 24 to 48 hours. This is a huge
improvement that not only cuts down the time taken to close the claim but also
dramatically improves the policyholders “claims experience”. There is an added benefit,
that of the independence of those parties identifying the material and those responsible
for removing any asbestos found. EU guidance is very clear that these two distinct tasks
must be undertaken by two unrelated companies and there should be no vested
interest in the outcome of the analysis by the sampler or laboratory.
As previously stated until the presence of asbestos has been ruled out, no further work can
take place in the affected areas of the property and this includes the use of air drying and
dehumidifying machinery. On a number of occasions use of such equipment prior to an
asbestos test, has caused asbestos fibres to be spread through an entire property. In
these unfortunate cases, the cost of de-contamination has been at least 20x the cost of
the initial work and in some cases further damages have been awarded.
A Positive Result, What Next?
We have established that both textured coatings and vinyl floor tiles are currently non-
licensed materials and therefore it is not legally compulsory to appoint a licensed asbestos
removal contractor to work on or remove either material. However despite being non-
licensed, the materials must still be dealt with and disposed of in a regulated manner.
The vast majority of standard building repair contractors that make up the supply chains
or panels of major insurers are not geared up to handling this type of work. In order to
carry out work on non-licensed asbestos, the employees need far more training, a
significant investment in specialist plant such as certified hepa filter vacuums and
decontamination units is required, waste carriage licenses must be obtained and EL and PL
insurance policies must be re-negotiated. After weighing up the additional costs of taking
on this specialist work most contracting firms have decided not to bother.
For the insurer the use of a reputable licensed asbestos removal contractor, whilst
potentially more expensive, ensures that the work is carried out in a fully compliant
manner with a full audit trail and traceability. This is not to say that an insurer cannot
take a more active role in determining what kind of work actually takes place. A good
example of where greater input from insurers could improve the way work is carried out
and cut costs is damaged ceilings that contain asbestos. The tendency is for removals
companies to insist that the entire ceiling is removed however this is not always the best
or safest option for the policyholder. For ceilings where less than 1 sq meter of surface
area is damaged the better and safer option is to patch repair the ceiling. Remember it
goes back to one of the overriding principles we listed earlier, Reg 16 of CAR (2006) that
states that the risk of exposure to fibres or spreading of fibres should be kept to a
minimum, so patching part of a ceiling rather than removing an entire ceiling fits both
The secret to managing asbestos in repair claims in a safe yet cost effective manner is
about understanding the problems and ensuring the proper processes and procedures are
in place. Of paramount importance is the need for awareness training, not only of
suppliers in the field but also of insurers’ own office based claims staff. This uniform
knowledge base will minimise the chances of potential ACMs being missed on site.
Sampling should be undertaken independently of removal, preferably on the first visit to a
property. Finally if insurers work closely with removal companies the scope and scale of
jobs can be controlled to the benefit of both insurers and policyholders. Asbestos is a past
and present problem that with the UK’s aging housing stock looks destined to be with us
well into the future – ignore it at your peril.
Ian Bullen is a founder and director of bSure Testing Limited, provider of asbestos testing,
training and consultancy services to the UK insurers and their supply chains. More
information about bSure can be found on their web site: www.bsuretesting.co.uk