09 September, 2009
It is difficult to emphasise the dangers caused by asbestos in properties. Each year 1000 people die from past exposure to asbestos and the risk still remains with around half a million buildings still containing asbestos.
Those who are responsible for managing the maintenance and repair of buildings are also legally required to manage asbestos under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. Landlords are affected by these Regulations as responsibility for management is upon organisations which own buildings or are responsible for them through contracts and tenancy agreements.
Asbestos can be disrupted by a wide range of activities such as cutting or drilling into walls, repairing boilers or laying cables. If the asbestos is disturbed in this manner, then its fibres (which are so small that they cannot be 'filtered out' by nose hairs, or sneezing or coughing) can get into a person's lungs and in due course lead to diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. These illnesses are often very short lived and extremely painful.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced an eight stage guide for dealing with asbestos and landlords and other organisations may be advised to consider implementing it in the future.
Stage 1- The first step is to determine who possesses responsibility for the maintenance and repair of domestic buildings. Generally, a landlord will be responsible or will have an agreement with a specialist company to deal with these situations on their behalf.
Stage 2- The HSE advises that if the building in question was built before 2000, it should be assumed that there is asbestos present.
Stage 3- The next stage is to investigate whether there information is already held on the existence of asbestos in the building. This can be done by examining previous surveys and building reports.
Stage 4- The advice is to visit the building in question and walk around the interior. A relevant employee should make a note of all materials which may contain asbestos (for example insulation boards and ceiling tiles). It can either be assumed that asbestos is present in these materials or ask for a specialist company to take samples and determine its presence.
Stage 5- It may be beneficial to keep a written record of where the asbestos material is in the building and its condition. Those with responsibility for dealing with the asbestos should also be detailed in the record. The HSE advises that these records are kept an easily accessible place, in case of emergency.
Stage 6- A priority action list should be drafted which gives preference to damaged material and items that are likely to be disturbed. These should be repaired, enclosed or removed using trained personnel or licensed contractors. Materials which are deemed to be in a good condition and unlikely to be disturbed should be left in place but be regularly reviewed.
Stage 7- Inform people where the asbestos is located and if anyone operates near to it, precautions should be agreed to prevent exposure. It should be noted that anyone who works on asbestos must be trained to do so.
Stage 8- The records held about asbestos should be kept up to date and annual checks of the sites should be undertaken. If deterioration is found then these findings should be acted upon as stated in stage 6.
It is important to note that both the HSE guide and the 2006 Regulations are concerned with protecting people from exposure to asbestos fibres by managing its presence in buildings in a proper fashion and that removing asbestos is not always the safest solution. If in doubt, assistance from an expert is normally the best solution.