A new accreditation scheme is offering training and indemnity insurance to construction professionals taking on the vital role of asbestos inspectors

Until recently, asbestos inspectors had a hard time trying to get professional indemnity insurance. Insurers were unwilling to carry asbestos-related risk, and most professional indemnity policies specifically exclude claims linked to asbestos, or provide very limited cover. Not surprisingly, many people have stopped carrying out the work – despite the Health and Safety Executive’s estimate that 800,000 non-domestic buildings require an asbestos survey at a cost of £1.4bn.

The reason so many buildings require asbestos surveys is rule 4 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, which came into force on 21 May last year. This piece of legislation requires every duty holder of non-domestic premises to assess whether asbestos is present and, if it is, to prepare a plan for managing the associated risks. Clearly, the work is of a specialist nature and duty holders will have to employ the services of specialists to carry out the assessment. Annual recurring costs could be as high as £13m, representing big business for construction professionals who act as inspectors in the coming years.

The problem is that because of the lack of professional indemnity cover, there is a desperate shortage of qualified inspectors to carry out survey work. The RICS predicts that between 3000 and 4000 newly qualified and insured inspectors will be needed to produce asbestos management plans for the commercial premises that now require them. So the RICS has joined forces with the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association to launch a certification scheme for asbestos inspectors that will enable them to secure suitable professional indemnity cover.

The National Individual Asbestos Certification Scheme (NIACS) has the full backing of the HSE and is open to any construction professional – surveyors, architects or engineers – who wants to become a certified inspector.

Applicants must hold the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health level 3 certificate in asbestos inspection procedures and must be members of specified professional bodies, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, the RIBA or the RICS.

Duty holders commissioning asbestos assessments will be looking for assurance of competency from the organisations or individuals conducting the work – and will want to be certain that insurance is in place. Professionals will receive specific training to achieve the required degree of expertise. The course consists of training, examinations and assessments. If they pass, candidates can then apply for NIACS membership. This stage involves building up a sufficient level of supervised work experience before visiting the CITB-ConstructionSkills training centre in Norfolk to carry out a competence assessment – the final hurdle of certification.

The NIACS approached Howden, a Lloyd’s broker specialising in professional indemnity, to put in place a specific and tailored insurance policy – one for individual inspectors and one for companies of inspectors – to run alongside the scheme. The policy provides a suitable and sufficient level of professional indemnity to cover all elements of the asbestos work being carried out. Premiums start from £2500 for £1m of cover. It covers three key areas:

  • Bodily injury – which refers to actual injury and mental injury caused by exposure to asbestos
  • Consequential loss – which relates to loss of income, rent or other costs incurred as an indirect result of a negligent act
  • Diminution in the value of buildings – which is the loss in the value of a building as a result of asbestos being in the property.

The insurance cover dovetails with the standard terms and conditions of the inspectors and is also designed to be used alongside a professional’s existing professional indemnity policy. It is specific and exclusive to members of the NIACS.

The panel of insurers involved is satisfied that membership of the NIACS demonstrates professional competency and allows them to offer a broad insurance cover at a reasonable insurance premium.

Professionals interested in applying for NIACS certification should visit www.niacs.org.uk.