Most people will have heard of asbestos issues within properties, although often not the complete story. This therefore can result in people panicking over the wrong issues about asbestos, and under-rating those that do in actual fact count.
This all stems from some materials being constructed from certain fibrous materials, namely chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. So building materials like roofing tiles, floor tiles, ceiling and artex materials, and general boarding can all have this within them.
From around the 1970s people began to realise that these toxic elements can cause life-threatening illnesses like lung and respiratory conditions. In short, if these are inhaled by people then they can cause these serious health problems, often many years later.
This has resulted in the asbestos materials being banned in modern construction methods, and a legal requirement to now carefully note what asbestos-containing materials and how they should be carefully treated exists within properties. Currently, this all leads up to The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 following a raft of previous obligations.
Interestingly, the positive side to asbestos is its strength, both literally and from a fire resistance perspective. Therefore it originates from the need to add genuine strength to buildings and reduce the risk of fire, with the down-side health issues only coming to light afterwards.
What Asbestos Means For Properties
Therefore a range of often older and more dilapidated properties have issues from asbestos materials remaining and therefore a need for those involved to legally deal with them safely.
Without trying to get too technical at this stage, from a property management perspective here are some of the main points to be aware of in terms of how these should be considered on a property-by-property basis.
1. When & Where Asbestos Applies
The buck stops with the ‘duty holder’ at a property, which is basically the person in charge of any one area.
They have an obligation to determine the extent of ‘asbestos containing materials’ (ACMs), which makes sense as in you need to first get to the bottom of what asbestos issues you have at a property. Practically, you should bring in a specialist to determine this, however for more straight forward scenarios and ongoing monitoring this could be carried out by non-asbestos specialists who know what to look for.
In terms of what this means, the bad news is that if there are any areas of asbestos that are exposed or there are building works that may disturb them, then you will need specialist and maybe even licenced contractors to deal with this. You can’t simply bag-up asbestos and throw it away in a bin, as there needs to be safe measures to not only protect or remove these, but then take-away the material to somewhere safe afterwards.
There is good news though, something most people don’t realise. If the asbestos has no risk where it is, then it’s actually okay to just leave it. You will still need to log it, and maybe identify it with labels, but you don’t then have to neccessarily remove it from the property.
You see, the issue is with asbestos being disturbed, not just being there. So you could have a property riddled with it, and rather than people assuming huge costs of removing it, in reality you can just carefully manage it.
2. When Asbestos Issues Ended
Once people began to realise the issues with asbestos, it soon became law to not build any new properties with this, effective from 1999. This means that any new-builds and major refurbishments from this point will not have any asbestos issues, which helps automatically rule-out any compliance issues.
A word of warning though is to check that this is actually the case, and that no additional changes have been completed, and any works have not left any remaining asbestos in any pre-existing parts of the property. Seeking previous asbestos documentation and your own investigations should help dig up the reality.
3. What Properties Are Affected
The rule of thumb when it comes to which properties are covered by responsibilities under The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, its usually all commercial properties and residential ones involving communal management duties.
Therefore this is all part and parcel of commercial property management, but it can be a grey area with residential properties. For a landlord dealing with communal areas of, say, a purpose-built or converted residential property, then this counts, however private housing and lodgings are not strictly under the main legislation.
Good practice however under other general Health & Safety legislation, and common sense if you have say an older property needing refurbishment, means it is still worth addressing these asbestos issues.
4. Which Areas Are Involved
You need to work out literally which parts of a property you are responsible for when it comes to asbestos issues.
When you own and, say, occupy a property yourself it’s more straight forward, although make sure all hidden areas are included as well such as outside buildings and boundary walls, and loft and basement areas.
With a landlord and tenant situation, you will need to look at the lease and determine, often with the landlord being responsible for shared and communal areas and tenants for their own areas. However a landlord may still be responsible for occupied areas, for example most short-term residential leases, and in reality it may be worth a landlord arranging for the whole property anyway as a one-off exercise for the whole property.
5. How You Determine & Manage
The bedrock of determining the extent of asbestos is an Asbestos Survey, which you’ll often see reference to. They basically determine what ACMs exist in the property by a thorough inspection, although in some cases additional sampling still being needed, and a default of asbestos being assumed in areas that can not be accessed.
Stemming from this are two main forms. Firstly, a refurbishment and demolition survey which is more in depth for when you’re making serious changes to the property, and secondly a Management Plan which helps map out what practical action points and observations people need to make as part of their normal use and works at the property.
It’s this later Management Plan you’ll see most of, which will need to be kept up-to-date and in line with what actual asbestos risks exist at the property and what action is needed
6. Who Has to Know & Act
Once you have asbestos documentation and information in place, you have to show that this can be practically used as necessary, and not just clutter up your filing cabinet.
Contractors working at the property need to know about this, and ideally sign and acknowledge that they have seen and taken note of, along with their own training and awareness of asbestos issues as a business. As above, for some works involving the disturbance of asbestos then special licences and permissions will be required.
Other property interests may also need to know, particularly when there are property transactions, for example a new buyer or tenant requesting a copy of the Asbestos Survey. Therefore make sure this is all easy to hand, and makes sense to them, for example a new tenant only needs to be directly involved for their own occupied areas unless any works such as connecting new cables involves works in communal areas.
Safely & Effectively Dealing With Asbestos
The effect of asbestos is unfortunately often under-estimated, whereas in actual fact there is a real risk of harm for people even though this may not become apparent until years later. When it comes to then dealing with asbestos issues within properties, they are then often over-rated in that people panic and assume that every trace of asbestos must suddenly be removed.
The reality therefore is somewhere in between these extremes - taking the matter seriously whilst coming up with a workable plan that everyone can then easily abide by. Going through these above points and then taking the right advice can then help you get this right and effectively communicated to everyone involved.