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The Link Between RAAC and Asbestos












Introduction and Background

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) has been used since the 1950s, and primarily in the 1950s-1990s, as a low-cost alternative to traditional concrete. RAAC was primarily used in public sector buildings such as schools and hospitals, though it has also been used in domestic properties including social housing stock to a lesser extent.

Over the last 20 years or so there have been concerns around the structural integrity and longevity of RAAC, which has come to a head recently in around August 2023 when the government ordered over 100 schools in England to close over safety concerns about the presence of RAAC. As RAAC is more porous than traditional concrete it is more susceptible to water damage and can lead to significant structural defects which can cause collapse of structures with no prior warning. In addition, RAAC has a typical lifespan of 30 years, so much of the RAAC that has been used in buildings throughout the country has far exceeded its lifespan.


At the peak of RAAC usage in the UK, asbestos was also being widely used in the construction industry and is present in many homes and public buildings across the country. Now, with the concerns around RAAC being closely scrutinised by the media, government and Housing Regulators, links between RAAC and asbestos have been made. Consequently, there are a number of asbestos considerations that dutyholders must consider when approaching the management of RAAC within their property portfolio.


Damage to Asbestos Containing Materials


Due to the concerns around the structural integrity of RAAC and the risk of it crumbling and collapsing without notice, there is an increased risk of damage to asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that are found attached to, or located near to, RAAC. As such, where asbestos may be unexpectedly disturbed or damaged due to, for example, collapse of a structure, this may result in a release of significant quantities of airborne asbestos fibres.

Therefore, those defined as dutyholders under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, should firstly identify where RAAC is, or is likely to be present within their property portfolio. These properties should then be cross-referenced with the information contained in the organisation’s asbestos register. Further asbestos surveys and information may be required, as will be discussed below, but where there are known ACMs located on or near RAAC, the existing survey information should be reviewed and, where necessary, the Material and Priority Risk Assessment scores should be updated to reflect any change in the risk profile. Guidance on carrying out Material and Priority Risk Assessments can be found here Microsoft Word - Asbestos policy - guidance - managing my asbestos - Material and priority scoring tools - manual PDF - online (hse.gov.uk).

Where RAAC has been identified as being present in a property, it should be subject to regular reinspections at periods to be determined by the condition of the material and its susceptibility to damage. In addition to this, where ACMs have been identified these must also be subject to a reinspection at a period to be determined by the findings of the Material and Priority Risk Assessments. Therefore, where the Risk Assessment scores need to be updated due to the presence of RAAC, the reinspection frequency of the ACM may need to be updated too.


Asbestos Surveying Considerations


Where an organisation is surveying their properties to identify where RAAC may be present or is assessing the condition of known RAAC panels, the required work should be planned carefully, and the asbestos register consulted before carrying out the inspections. The organisation should ensure that there is sufficient asbestos data recorded to allow the inspections to take place safely. This may require more surveys to be carried out to ensure that the specific area that is going to be inspected has been appropriately surveyed, or more intrusive surveys may need to be carried out where ACMs are likely to be disturbed in the course of the inspection.


Similarly, where remedial work on RAAC is required, the organisation should ensure that the asbestos register has been properly consulted and that asbestos survey data is available to allow the works to proceed safely. In addition, asbestos removal works may be required prior to remedial work on RAAC being undertaken. Advice on the planning and management of asbestos works can be found on the HSE website Managing my asbestos - Before carrying out the work (hse.gov.uk).


Conclusion


In conclusion, it can be seen that there are clear links between the risks posed by RAAC and asbestos in buildings throughout the UK. This requires ensuring that accurate, appropriate and up to data asbestos information is held by the dutyholder and that it is regularly reviewed, and the risks managed in a proportionate manner. In addition, this information should not be viewed in isolation but should be considered while the organisation is developing policies and procedures for the management of RAAC within their property portfolio.

If your organisation requires advice or guidance on any of the above, then contact ACS by phone on 0141 427 5171 or via email at info@acsrisk.com. ACS can assist with reviewing and updating existing asbestos data, arranging and carrying out management or refurbishment asbestos surveys and planning and organising asbestos works including asbestos removals.





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