Managing the Risk of Asbestos in Your Building

Today, the dangers of asbestos and related materials are well-documented, with the vast majority of the public now aware of these risks. But that isn’t to say that asbestos has been completely irradicated in the UK. In fact, around 4-5,000 people reportedly die in the UK each year of asbestos-related illnesses. Beyond this, asbestos is known to represent a serious health risk and is associated with a number of illnesses and diseases that can significantly impact quality of life.  It is, therefore, vital that building owners are able to manage asbestos and its associated risks effectively.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the term used to refer to a group of six naturally occurring minerals. These minerals are made up of heat-resistant fibres and were widely used in construction and other industries around the world until as recently as the late 1990s. The heat and chemical resistance of asbestos made it a popular material for providing fireproofing and strength in building materials; however, it soon became apparent that these materials were causing various health complications, including the development of cancer and other serious illnesses.

Once connections were made between asbestos and the development of health complications, the production and use of these materials gradually declined. Asbestos was eventually banned for use in new buildings in the UK in 1999. In 2005, the European Union also banned asbestos, but its use continues in construction in the USA. Nonetheless, asbestos has a lasting legacy in the UK, with thousands of people living with the devastating effects of this harmful material. What’s more, asbestos can still be found in some older buildings meaning its associated risks should be carefully considered today, particularly if you are the freeholder or landlord of residential/commercial properties.

Managing Asbestos

Since the year 2000, asbestos was banned from new developments; however, asbestos may still be present in buildings built before this time. Generally, asbestos is not considered high risk in old buildings if it remains undisturbed, but renovations and demolition of these buildings can lead to harmful asbestos fibres being released, leading to a risk of exposure. The 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations were introduced to set out a protocol for managing the potential presence of asbestos and any associated risks.

These regulations apply to the governance of asbestos in both non-domestic buildings and communal areas (e.g., halls, stairwells, entrances/exits, lift shafts, and roof spaces) of domestic buildings. They define who is responsible for the management of asbestos and the protocols for doing so. The person with “the duty to manage” the presence of asbestos may be the owner of the building, the person responsible through a contract or tenancy agreement, a controller of the building, or the owner of a multi-occupancy building.

Protocol Under the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations

Identify: The first step in asbestos management at your property is establishing whether asbestos is, or is likely to be present, as well as locating it and determining what condition it is in. Standard practice is to assume that asbestos is present in buildings pre-dating the 1999 ban unless there is any evidence to the contrary. It is, therefore, usually necessary to employ specialists to locate any asbestos with an Asbestos Management, Asbestos Refurbishment, or Asbestos Demolition Survey – depending on the works scheduled.

Record: Under current regulation, the responsible person is required to schedule (at minimum) an annual inspection of any asbestos-containing materials (ACM). You should keep a log of these inspections and, where applicable, any steps you took to verify the absence of asbestos in your building.

Assess: One of the most important steps in managing the presence of asbestos in your building is to assess the potential risk of the ACM. This is based on the type of asbestos, its location, and the condition of the material. To to do this effectively, it is likely you will require the expertise of a specialist certified Asbestos Surveyor who has appropriate liability insurance. Asbestos samples can be sent to the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) – this can help surveyors to advise on the best management plan.

Plan: Following the assessment of your property, you should develop a plan that sets out risk management steps. These steps can vary significantly depending on the condition of the ACMs and planned developments for the building. For example, if the ACM is likely to remain undisturbed, you may only need to ensure regular checks are carried out.

Review and Inform: Finally, you should demonstrate a planned review process that will ensure you record the location of any asbestos in your building and any changes in its condition. It is also essential that this information is available to anyone who may work in your building or who may be liable to disturb ACMs.

Proper asbestos management is an important consideration and legal duty for any building owner or their appointed manager. It is, therefore, crucial that you ensure this responsibility falls to an experienced and knowledgeable party. To find out more about how Horizon Management could help with the management of your building – including the Risk of Asbestos – get in touch with a member of our team today.

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