The law on control of asbestos at work has become more stringent. Barrister Julie Barratt looks through the requirements to maintain health and safety
I rent the premises from which I operate my business. Other people in the same block have discovered asbestos in their premises. I know asbestos is a health and safety hazard. I am not sure whether there is asbestos in the premises I rent. What should I do?
The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 require employers to prevent exposure of their employees to asbestos. A new duty to manage asbestos has been added to the regulations. It applies to anyone who has responsibilities for maintaining or repairing non-domestic premises, either in consequence of a contract or tenancy agreement or as owner of the premises.
Asbestos is a fibrous material that was commonly used pre-1985. It is heat- and fire-resistant and generally incorporated into building material such as insulation boards, pipe lagging, ceiling tiles and asbestos cement products, such as corrugated sheeting used for roofs.
If your property contains such products you will not be able to confirm whether the material contains asbestos visually. It will have to be sampled and sent to a specialist laboratory, which will confirm the presence or absence of asbestos.
Environmental health officers carrying out health and safety inspections of premises which might contain asbestos will want to know what has been done by those owning or operating premises to comply with the new duty to manage it.
It is, therefore, essential that you take steps to identify and manage any asbestos in the premises from which you operate. You can engage a competent person to carry out all or some of the work. However, you must be involved in the final assessment of risk.
The law is clear that responsibility for complying with the new duty to manage potential risk lies with the duty holder and cannot be delegated.
If you find suspected asbestos-containing material, do not disturb it. If it is undamaged, it may present no risk; however, if it is broken or crumbling, there is risk from the fibres that may be loose. Where the presence of asbestos is identified all staff must be warned that they should not disturb it, and the warning should be documented.
You must also warn any contractors who may have reason to come into the premises of the potential risk. Specialist contractors must be engaged to remove it safely.
The new duty requires you to manage any risk posed by asbestos by:
- Finding out if there is asbestos in the property, how much and its condition.
- Presuming material does contain asbestos unless you have strong evidence to the contrary.
- Making and maintaining a record of the location of and condition of asbestos- containing materials in your premises.
- Assessing the risk from the asbestos-containing materials.
- Preparing a plan to detail how you will deal with the identified risks.
- Taking the steps necessary to put the plan into action.
- Reviewing and monitoring the plan.
- Providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who might work on or disturb it.
If you take no steps to identify possible sources of asbestos in your premises and to manage any discovered, you are automatically in breach of the law. The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 are made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, breach of which can lead to a fine of up to £20,000.
Employees who contract an asbestos-related disease in consequence of being exposed to asbestos fibres in your premises would also be in a position to bring a civil action for damages against you or your company. Awards of damages in such cases have exceeded £1m in some cases.
Asbestos Removal Contractors Association
01283 531126. www.arca.org.uk
Health & Safety Executive 08701 545500