The Critical Role of Asbestos Surveys in Building Renovations

The Critical Role of Asbestos Surveys in Building Renovations

March 18, 2024

The resurgence of interest in urban regeneration has been augmented by a parallel revival in the renovation of historic and older buildings. These projects, however, are not without their considerable risks - one of the most insidious being asbestos survey, a material commonly used in construction up until the 1980s, when its carcinogenic properties were more widely understood.

Before any major renovation or demolition takes place, it is crucial to perform an asbestos survey. This simple step can avert dangerous exposure and ensure that a project stays on track legally and financially, saving both time and potentially a fortune in remediation.

Understanding the Need

The very soil of older buildings contains a legacy of asbestos, a once-heralded building material with a dark side. Today, it lurks in lagging, in walls, and in countless old structures. The very act of cutting through an asbestos-containing material, or even the natural degradation of these components, can release asbestos fibers into the air. That's when it becomes a serious health hazard, as inhalation of these fibers can lead to various respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

The resurgence in building renovations post-GFC, combined with tightened regulations around workplace safety, has elevated the need for asbestos surveys. No building being considered for any type of significant change can be deemed too 'new' to be exempt. From historic manors to 1970s-era commercial buildings, the presence of asbestos supplements the history of these edifices with a layer of complexity.

Comprehensive Surveys as a Must-Have

To ensure worker safety and regulatory compliance, an asbestos survey must be a comprehensive and detailed effort. This includes sampling and analyzing suspect materials and then documenting their location, condition, and type. There are essentially two types of survey: management surveys and refurbishment or demolition surveys.

A management survey is the standard survey required during the normal occupation and routine maintenance of premises to ensure continued safety. A refurbishment or demolition survey is needed when the building is to undergo any serious renovation or complete demolition.

Such surveys are not DIY jobs. They must be carried out by competent and qualified asbestos professionals. The survey process is not just about identification; it also involves understanding the material's friability and potential risks, as not all asbestos is an immediate danger.

The Financial and Operational Implications

From a financial standpoint, discovering asbestos late in a project not only causes delays but brings about substantial costs. The logistical implications of stopping work, setting up and running a separate asbestos project, then re-mobilizing for the original work, can be severe. There's a domino effect on the entire project schedule that an early survey can completely avoid.

Legally speaking, the costs can be ruinous, with fines and legal claims mounting. The ultimate aim is to protect the health of all involved and prevent any future legal entanglements for neglecting proper procedures.

In conclusion, when commencing any renovation whatsoever, taking an asbestos survey seriously is non-negotiable. It is a key component in due diligence, safeguarding health, and ensuring the financial stability of the project. The initial cost of such a survey pales in comparison to the potential costs of remediation, fines, and litigation. 

Whether an old building is an architectural wonder, a community hub, or a private residence, understanding and managing the presence of asbestos is a legacy worth leaving behind. It’s a silent task that echoes through time, safeguarding the past for the future.


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