Asbestos in hospitals: a complex situation to manage

Abestos in Hospitals.

According to the BBC, 94% of hospitals in London alone contain asbestos.¹ The prolific use of asbestos in hospitals around the UK has created a complex issue for those tasked with managing it, but crucially, it’s a problem that threatens the health of hospital staff, patients, and visitors.

Extensively used in hospital boiler rooms and for lagging pipes, asbestos is also commonly found in staff canteens and the underground pedestrian tunnels that link hospital buildings. Most of our hospitals were constructed before the asbestos ban took effect in 1999, and at the time of construction it was seen as an ideal material for insulation and fireproofing.

Why is asbestos such a problem in hospitals?

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) degrade over time, and if disturbed, can release carcinogenic fibres that cause life-threatening illness and disease, typically several decades later.

If hospital staff don’t know where asbestos lies, or are unaware of the dangers, it can be easily disturbed during routine maintenance work. That’s why asbestos awareness training, and a formal asbestos management plan, are required to comply with asbestos regulations.

Managing the risk of asbestos in hospitals

The duty to manage asbestos in hospitals falls to NHS Trust estates departments. They face a multi-faceted scenario involving asbestos compliance, the logistics of keeping wards open and clinical services running, and financial issues caused by dwindling budgets.

To add further complexity, each hospital under the care of an NHS Trust presents its own unique challenges as far as asbestos is concerned. There may be different types of asbestos within each building, for example, some asbestos materials may have degraded more than others, or be located in more public areas.

What is required to manage asbestos in hospitals?

Official guidance is that asbestos should be left undisturbed if the materials containing it are intact, but their condition must be monitored and recorded via an asbestos risk register. By implementing a plan to monitor its condition via regular asbestos surveys and testing, a hospital’s compliance issues, logistics, and budgeting, all become more manageable.

These are just some of the steps needed to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012:

  • Inspection of hospital buildings by way of asbestos management surveys
  • Creation of an asbestos risk register to be regularly updated, and provided to contractors or maintenance staff undertaking planned works
  • Formulation of an asbestos management plan
  • Provision of asbestos awareness training to workers likely to encounter the substance during their normal working day
  • Undertaking of appropriate asbestos surveys and testing before works are carried out, to establish whether a threat to health exists

Acorn Analytical Services are asbestos experts. We provide professional advice on managing asbestos in hospitals, including asbestos surveys, asbestos testing, and asbestos removal. We can help you deal with the asbestos in your hospital buildings – call one of our highly skilled consultants to find out more.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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