Assure 360

You might remember the gel-cut asbestos pipe removal technique that I wrote about in October last year. This brand-new approach is aimed at an age-old problem: how to make the removal of asbestos pipe insulation safer than existing methods. Last month, in my capacity as a FAAM Committee member, I had the great pleasure of attending a site on Guernsey to conduct a further FAAM and BOHS investigation into the method.

By way of a short recap, when faced with having to remove an asbestos-insulated pipe, licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) conventionally have two options. The first is full removal, the second is wrap and cut. Both involve injecting the asbestos-containing material (ACM) with surfactant and carefully removing the now wet insulation. Full removal, as the name suggests, involves taking away and cleaning all of the insulation, leaving a bare pipe to be reused. It’s a laborious process that clearly involves risk of exposure.

If the pipe itself is redundant, you can use wrap and cut. Here you inject and clean short sections of insulation to reveal bare metal that can be cut. Intact sections of still-insulated pipe can be wrapped and disposed of. This process is much safer than full removal as it disturbs only a fraction of the asbestos material. But it’s still laborious, as you have to inject and carefully remove the insulation from the point to be cut. As with full removal, you must always stay vigilant for a dry spot that could lead to significant exposure.

Safely packed

This is where the new technique comes in. With gel cutting, workers fix gel pouches to pipes that have already been wrapped, then simply cut through the gel, the asbestos, and the pipe. The innovation is that the gel reforms over the blade, so that the operative is always separated from the asbestos. The gel captures the dust and the team simply seals the cut end of each section with a waste sack and moves to the next cut point.

Our earlier investigation in Somerset with Horizon Environmental gave very encouraging results. Both wrap and cut and the new gel-cut technique gave similar air test results of 0.03 fibres per millilitre (f/ml). But importantly, the new technique was twice as quick, so the operatives’ total exposure was halved.

Last month FAAM appealed for suitable projects on which we could repeat the exercise. We wanted to see whether the technique could easily be adopted by a new team, in a different setting, and still deliver the big safety benefit we observed in the first test.

Paul Knight, of the Guernsey-based removal contractor ASR, quickly suggested his site at the old vineyard at A’La Fin. This was a redundant greenhouse plant room with 10 linear metres of asbestos-insulated pipes. As with the first trial, we were dealing with hard-set insulation including all three of the commercial types of asbestos: amosite, chrysotile and crocidolite.To make it more challenging, the material was in poor condition.

All of the pipes were wrapped in polythene and seven cuts were planned. The whole exercise – from selecting the cut points, affixing the gel packs, making the cuts and sealing the redundant pipe sections after removal – was completed in around 45 minutes.

This seems very fast – and it is in comparison to the traditional approach, which might have taken most of the day – but the whole process was in reality unhurried, and completed with increasing confidence. The exercise was witnessed by me (representing FAAM and BOHS), Graham Warren and Craig Binge of ASESA (ASR’s trade association), and Matthew Coggins of the Guernsey Health and Safety Executive.

Watch the footage of the cutting in action.


As with the Horizon Somerset test, the air test measurements were very encouraging. The new technique returned results of 0.015f/ml and 0.018f/ml – in line, or even better that what we’d expect from well-controlled wrap and cut removal. But again, with the work completed so much more quickly, worker exposure was significantly reduced.

This test showed that the technique is easily picked up by new teams, in different situations, who can work more quickly and in greater safety than they might expect from wrap and cut. I’m indebted to the site team, who committed to the investigation so enthusiastically.

The removalists were Paul Knight senior and Paul Knight junior, Darren Wain and Mathew Wakeford from ASR, while the air testing was expertly delivered by Daniel Klassen of Survey Safe. It was great to see their work subsequently covered by Guernsey Press, in which Paul senior was able to highlight the gap between the asbestos regulations in Guernsey and the UK.

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