Asbestos was extensively used in houses and other buildings during most of the 20th century. It has the potential to pose significant health risks to anyone exposed to it. If you are a landlord or ‘duty holder’, you have a legal responsibility to identify and manage asbestos within your properties. In this guide, we explain how best to deal with asbestos.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that was regularly used in the construction industry for most of the 20th century. There are three main types of asbestos that were commercially exploited: Chrysotile, Amosite and Crocidolite.
Asbestos was used so extensively because it is ultra-resistant and has many useful properties. Among other things, asbestos is strong, incombustible, heat-resistant, cheap, sound absorbent and it can control condensation. It was used to make all sorts of products – from roof and floor tiles, to textured ceiling coatings to kitchen paper – so no wonder it was so popular.
Why is asbestos harmful?
In a good condition and undisturbed, asbestos poses no risk to health. However, problems occur when asbestos is disturbed – it can break down into fibres, which when inhaled can cause serious health problems. This includes cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening
Current Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research indicates that around 5,000 people die each year from cancers caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. Tradespeople such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians and gas fitters are most at risk, as are those working in building repair or refurbishment like plasterers, roofers, decorators and heating engineers. On average, 20 tradespeople die each week as a result of past exposure to asbestos.
Where might asbestos be found?
Fortunately, asbestos is no longer used or imported in the UK. It was banned in 1999 due to the health hazards it creates. However, it’s still common in existing buildings constructed or refurbished before 2000. Places you might find asbestos include:
- Textured coating to walls and ceiling, such as Artex
- Floor tiles
- Asbestos insulating board in walls, ceilings and doors
- Baking paper and cardboard
- Panels behind or under heaters
- Bath panels
- Fire blankets and fire doors
- Water tanks and boiler flues
- Roof felt
- Guttering and pipe work
- Garage roofs
- Damp proof course
- Wall cladding
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website gives some useful images on where you might find asbestos hiding in residential and industrial properties.
What is my legal responsibility?
Legislation currently only exists for non-domestic properties, however because of its harmful nature, it’s advisable to manage asbestos properly in domestic properties as well.
Under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), there is a duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises to prevent people from exposure to asbestos. ‘Non-domestic’ includes residential communal areas, such as entrance halls, stairways, shared roof-spaces, garages, boiler rooms and communal gardens.
If you are a landlord or ‘duty holder’ - someone who has clear responsibility for maintaining or repairing non-domestic premises, such as a managing agent – you are required to provide asbestos information to workers entering a property on your behalf. The property becomes a workplace for the works’ duration.
Private residences like individual flats, private houses and private rooms are not covered by CAR 2012 and, perhaps confusingly, as a landlord or duty holder, you don’t have a legal duty to manage asbestos risks.
The Defective Premises Act 1972 reiterates the importance of protecting tenants from personal injury or disease caused by a defect in the state of the property. While asbestos isn’t specifically mentioned within this law, it makes sense to assume it is included.
As a landlord or duty holder therefore, it’s a good idea to assess the asbestos risks, identify the hazards and keep your tenants from harm.
What must I do to protect my property and tenants?
As a landlord or duty holder, the legislation means you need to:
- Ensure no-one is exposed to asbestos on your premises whether they are there to work or otherwise
- Ensure no-one works on any asbestos containing materials, unless they are aware of it and the CAR 2012 requirements are in place
- Take reasonable steps to find any asbestos or presume its presence
- Assess the condition of these materials and record the location and condition
- Prepare and implement a plan to manage any risks.
How do I identify asbestos?
To find out whether your property contains asbestos and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in, you will need to commission a survey from a UKAS accredited company that has adequate experience and training. There are three main types of survey:
1. Asbestos Management Surveys
Required during normal occupation and use of a building to ensure continued management of asbestos containing materials in situ.
2. Asbestos Refurbishment Surveys
Necessary when a building (or part of it) is to be upgraded, refurbished or demolished.
3. Re-inspection Surveys
Required to monitor and record the condition of any previously identified asbestos products within a building.
How do I manage asbestos?
If asbestos is identified, found in good condition and has not been, or is not likely to be, damaged or disturbed, it can be left in situ and managed. Follow our four steps for optimal asbestos management:
1. Record and plan – make sure you keep a register of information about the asbestos and keep it regularly up-to-date. Prepare a written management plan to set out how you will manage the risks identified from asbestos.
2. Share information – you are legally required to share asbestos information with everyone who needs to know, such as maintenance workers, contractors and occupants. Tell your occupants where asbestos is located, so they do not disturb it during normal activities. Even something as simple as hanging a picture on a wall could disturb the asbestos, so give them a guide on what they can and can’t do. Encourage them to report any accidental damage promptly.
3. Inspect periodically – any identified or suspected asbestos must be inspected and assessed periodically, to check that it has not deteriorated or been damaged. The frequency of inspection will depend on the location and other factors which could affect their condition, such as activities in the building or non-occupancy.
4. Review your plan – review your management plan, including records and drawings every 12 months, or sooner if circumstances change. Also review your plan whenever changes happen, such as maintenance work or when new tenants/employees come in.
How should asbestos be repaired or removed?
Some damaged asbestos-containing materials can be made safe by repairing and sealing or enclosing them to prevent further damage. Unless you have the proper training and accreditation, do not attempt to do this work yourself. Get an accredited asbestos specialist contractor in to carry out the repairs.
Ensure the area is marked after it has been repaired and make sure it is recorded on your asbestos register.
If the asbestos is in poor condition (either damaged or disturbed) and cannot be easily repaired and protected, have it removed by a licensed asbestos removal company.
How can Sarrani help?
We work with experienced UKAS accredited asbestos consultants who can undertake surveys to identify the location and condition of asbestos in your property. Our expert consultants will provide support and advice on managing asbestos risks and removing asbestos containing materials, to help you remain compliant with the law.
For more information on how we can help you identify and manage asbestos in your non-domestic property, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 3006 3126.