Guidance on How To Survey Buildings for Asbestos

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on how to survey workplace premises for asbestos [containing materials] and how to record the results. "Surveying, sampling and Assessment of Asbestos Containing Materials" has been produced as a standard for people carrying out - or commissioning - asbestos surveys in buildings. The guidance (known as MDHS 100) will form an important element in HSE's overall strategy to prevent people from dying from asbestos related disease, and will complement existing guidance on asbestos.

MDHS 100 leads people through the key elements of a successful survey - locating the extend and nature of any asbestos in a building - assessing the condition of the material in order to determine whether it presents a real risk - and recording the information in a clear and easily usable form.

The guidance describes 3 different levels of survey (Types 1, 2 and 3) of varying degrees of intensity which can be carried out on a building. Some surveys may involve collecting representative samples of suspect materials for laboratory identification, whilst others may rely on studies of building plans or other information sources. To assist users of the guidance, it gives advice on which type of survey is most appropriate for particular situations.

The guidance states that anyone undertaking asbestos surveys or samples should have appropriate training and experience, and be able to demonstrate independence, impartiality and integrity. It also stresses the importance of adequate quality assurance procedures, for the individual or organisation carrying out the survey, to order to achieve consistently high standards.

MDHS contains a wealth of information about where asbestos can be found in buildings, and a number of photographs have been included to assist surveyors in carrying out their work.

Bill Macdonald, Head of HSE's Asbestos Policy Unit. Said, "Regulations due to be brought in next year will require over a million commercial buildings in the UK to be surveyed for asbestos. It is vitally important that surveys carried out are done to a recognised standard if we are to ensure that money is not wasted on poor quality surveys that do little to protect people from the deadly effects of asbestos fibres. MDHS 100 is a crucial part of the strategy to make sure that doesn't happen."


Asbestos has been identified as the primary cause of occupational ill health in the second half of the twentieth century. Asbestos related diseases account for over 3,000 deaths a year in the UK and it is estimated that 50,000 have died from mesothelioma and other conditions since 1968. Around one quarter of current deaths occur in the building and maintenance trades - where people can be exposed to asbestos inadvertently when working in buildings.

The Health and Safety Commission is concerned that information on whether buildings have asbestos in them is not always being passed to those at risk. The Commission is therefore proposing a new statutory duty for those responsible for workplace buildings, to determine the presence of asbestos in their buildings, and assess and control the risk from the material. This will provide a new level of protection in building related trades and it is hoped that many thousands of lives will be saved through the operation of the proposed regulations, which will require amendment to the Control of Asbestos At Work Regulations 1987.

Although the Commission consulted widely on a new draft regulation and approved code of practice last year, it is taking the unusual step of re-consulting on a number of refinements to its original proposals as a result of important comments raised by consultees. In the meantime, HSE will be pressing ahead with a national campaign later this summer to raise awareness of the risks from asbestos in buildings.

MDHS 100 will form part of a suite of guidance material designed to underpin the new duty to manage asbestos in premises.

Copies of Surveying, sampling and Assessment of Asbestos Containing Materials, Ref MDHS 100, ISBN 0 7176 2076 X, price £18.00, can be ordered online at: or is available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, tel: 01787-881165 or fax: 01787-313995). HSE priced publications are also available from all good bookshops.

Public Enquiries

Call HSE's InfoLine, tel: 08701-545500
or write to: HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG.

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