BWB experts advise on new construction industry asbestos guide

Rachel Cheetham, service director in the environment group at BWB Consulting.

Environmental experts from BWB Consulting have helped produce a new guide about the best ways for the property industry to safely identify and manage the presence of a potentially lethal material on construction sites.

The new Asbestos in soil and made ground good practice site guide (C765) was published this month by CIRIA (the Construction Industry Research and Information Association), a membership-based organisation for the construction and related industries. The new CIRIA guide provides advice and information about working safely with asbestos in the ground, once routinely used in construction but now known to be the cause of a number of fatal respiratory diseases.

The CIRIA report Asbestos in soil and made ground: a guide to understanding and managing risks (C733) was the first major milestone in defining the way that asbestos in soils should be managed in the UK since 1990. This new guide builds on the latest expertise to provide new insights into the management of the material on site.

Decades ago, asbestos was seen as a state-of-the-art material renowned for its tensile strength and heat resistance. But research established that its fibres could cause respiratory diseases such as lung cancer. Today, it requires careful handling if detected in buildings and a comprehensive management plan if it is found in the ground.

Experts from BWB’s environment team played a key part in the review process which advised on the guidance which should be contained in the new publication.

“Asbestos was once hailed as an excellent insulation or protection material, but we now know that its fibres could be lethal if inhaled,” explained Rachel Cheetham, service director in BWB’s environment group. “The problem is that it was in widespread use for decades before the link with disease was established, and the increasing amount of regeneration and redevelopment of old buildings and brownfield sites means its legacy is now a major issue.

“The challenge is that while its presence in old buildings is usually easy to see, asbestos contamination within the soil can be quite hard to identify,” said Cheetham.

Karen Sinclair, associate director at BWB, added: “We are coming across more and more projects where asbestos contamination emerges as an issue and the earlier it is identified on site the better. BWB’s environment group has considerable experience in the identification and management of land contamination, and the rise in developments based on brownfield sites has seen an increasing demand for its expertise in pinpointing the presence of asbestos fibres.”

“We are site investigation specialists, which is one of the reasons we have been involved in this new guide,” said Sinclair. “The procedure for dealing with asbestos in buildings is well-established.  But you have to be extremely careful, and identifying its presence in soil is an involved process. The guide will present best practice advice to workers planning works in asbestos contaminated soil as well as providing a handy reference for what to do when unexpected contamination is identified.”

“We hope this guide will prove a vital tool in helping the development industry understand how to deal with an increasingly prevalent problem,” Sinclair said.

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