WARNING: Only read this if you are bored, very bored and if you have a sense of humour, also if you have no grasp or understanding of facts and figures. This article has been written with an element of sarcasm, humour, and industry experience, and when, if you get to the end, with a level of sincerity.
I'm seeing more and more posts on social media about eradicating ALL asbestos from ALL buildings (non-domestic) in the UK with a suggestion of it being completed in the next 40 years.
As I have stated in my posts and blogs many times, I am 101%, if not more, behind removing this evil, vile material as soon as possible, but great care needs to be observed before we commit.
It is estimated that there are around 1.5 million, yes, 1,500,000 non-domestic premises in the UK that contain asbestos. Well, let's just look at some very, very rough maths here, and believe me, they're rough.
Just for fun
According to the Health and Safety Executive, there are around 370 licensed asbestos (removal) contractors (LARCs) in the UK as of September 2023. Not all of them are fully licensed, about 1/6 are ancillary/duplicate entries.
To access this list: 111 Compliance Group (111cgl.co.uk)
Now here’s where we need to get a little creative! Arbitrary numbers are used for argument's sake and ease of making stuff up as there is little evidence to suggest otherwise.
Assuming that of the 1.5 million, 70% contain some level of licensed asbestos materials, this would give us around 1,050,000 premises to deal with.
Based on experience, let's say that removing the asbestos, if it can be done, takes on average 3 weeks per premises, then we have something to base the maths on.
o 1,050,000 premises x 3 weeks = 3,150,000 weeks of asbestos removal work.
o That’s about 60,300 years, (weekends, bank holidays, leap years and my birthdays not removed!!).
o Using the current number of fully licensed LARCs, (310 approx.) each LARC would need to work for about 195 years, non-stop, every day removing asbestos.
Ok, these numbers may be very wrong, but even if you went at the 50 per cent level, you are still looking at close to a century's worth of work with the current LARCs available!
But it doesn’t end there, what of all the asbestos, where is going to go? Again, using very spurious maths, let's say that each property has 1 tonne (1,000 kgs) of asbestos, that’s 1,050,000,000 kgs. of licensed hazardous waste, not only to remove, but it also needs double bagging, transporting and disposing of.
Just over 1 billion kilograms!! An asbestos waste bag typically holds around 20 to 25kg, based on this, we would need 80 million (40 million x 2) polythene bags.
To transport 1 billion kgs., you would need 125,000 builders skips (8,000 kgs. per skip).
Then there's the disposal. If we base all asbestos waste on the weight of asbestos cement, which is about 1000 kgs. m3, then we’ll have about 1 million cubic metres of waste. That would create a line, 2 metres wide, one meter high running from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.
Finally, let's look at the cost of all of this.
Based on the above, let's say that a typical asbestos job, (3 weeks) comes in at about £9,000, times this by the 1 million properties those with licensed materials, it comes out to about 9 billion pounds Sterling. Then the transport, 125,000 skips needed at £450 per skip, is about £60m, don’t forget the VAT and landfill tax!
Let us not ignore that we’ll also be looking at about 20 million quid in waste bags alone!!
***NOTE: DO NOT believe, trust or rely on these prices, simplified for ease of calculation***
If we are looking at the proposal to remove all asbestos within the next 40 years, we are most certainly going to need more licensed contractors and not just the companies, but a strong, committed workforce too, We’ll also need a fair bit of polythene and a good few skips. There is however a more pressing and much more serious issue to address... do we know where all the asbestos is?
The requirement to manage asbestos was introduced over 20 years ago, this would mean that surely by now we have identified it, after all, how can you manage something if you don’t know where it is?
To answer this question, all one needs to do is look on the internet to see how many asbestos surveying companies there currently are in the UK. These companies are typically engaged to find asbestos in properties, I do wonder, If we knew where all asbestos was, why do these companies exist, and I'm one of them!
What of a register then of all known asbestos?
Andrew Paten, et al, are doing it, they formed UKNAR (United Kingdom National Asbestos Register). As the name would suggest, UKNAR was formed to create an accessible and reliable list, a register of all known asbestos in all non-domestic premises in the UK, I say fair play to all at UKNAR, we need it, and I'm sure with Andrew's persistence, and believe me, he's persistent, we’ll get it, but when will this list will be completed and what it will include, only time will tell.
I am all for the eradication of asbestos, but realism is paramount. Asbestos is often woven into the fabric of a building, hidden behind walls, above ceilings, and under floors, It's in thousands of products from adhesives and paints to roofs and walls. The full removal of all asbestos may require the full or partial demolition of many thousands of schools, hospitals, care homes, libraries etc. but at what cost?
I’m sure you’ve all seen the recent debates on RAAC, and to date, it affects around 150 schools across the UK. Try looking at the 1.5 million buildings containing asbestos. I bet that stops the MPs in Westminster laughing at each other while it's debated as seen recently on the RAAC issue… sorry, it really got to me when I saw that, people's lives turned upside down overnight and they're laughing...so wrong!!!
It's not just the cost of this removal work, however vague and incorrect my figures above are, it’s also the reinstatement, the rebuild, it’s the decanting and temporary housing of the users of the premises while the works are done, indeed, it’s a task, and one on a mammoth, un-precedented scale, one that requires serious thought and a great deal of deliberation, planning, and funding, what we need is action, but a controlled action. Yes, a world, or even just the UK without asbestos would be ideal, but if we're struggling just to find it, how much will we struggle to remove it?