Managing Asbestos in Buildings: A Brief Guide

If you number among the many people responsible for the maintenance and repair of buildings which may contain asbestos, then this guide is for you. Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 you are under a legal ‘duty to manage’ the associated risks, whether this is because you are the owner of the building or enjoy some other form of responsibility for it.

Why Manage Asbestos?

Air containing asbestos-related diseases is incredibly dangerous. Breathing it in can cause a number of fatal illnesses, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining. These risks only materialise where the fibres are released into the air we breathe. Around 4500 people die every year in Great Britain from asbestos exposure. The majority of this number is made up of workers who have carried out building maintenance and repairs, as these often release the fibres into the environment. There tends to be a long delay between exposure to the damaging fibres and the onset of the asbestos-related disease. This period can be anything from 15 to 60 years.

The only way to reduce the incidence of these diseases is to prevent or minimise exposure to asbestos. As a result, the law has made it illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of properties – but the dangers remain. Thousands of tonnes of the material were used in the past, and much of it remains in place. This dangerous compound may be lurking in any building built or refurbished prior to 2000. Provided the material is undisturbed and undamaged, the risk is negligible. However, disruption can transform it into a major health hazard if fibres are released into the air.

Who’s at Risk?

The more asbestos fibres breathed in, the greater the risk to health. This means that workers who carry out repair and maintenance jobs – such as construction workers, plumbers and electricians – are at a particular risk.

What Does the Duty to Manage Asbestos Involve?

The duty to manage asbestos is multifaceted, and requires the duty holder to:

  • Find out if there is asbestos in the premises, its location and what condition it is in
  • Make and keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the asbestos
  • Assess the risk from the material
  • Prepare a detailed plan setting out how you will manage the risk posed by the material
  • Take the steps needed to put your plan into action
  • Review and monitor your plan and the arrangements made to put it in place
  • Set up a system for providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it.

There is also a duty on anyone with information about the whereabouts of asbestos in the building to disclose it to you as the duty holder. It is down to you to assess the reliability of your source and to conduct your own investigation to confirm the presence and state of the asbestos.

How Can You Comply with the Duty?

The HSE website hosts a web-based tool to take you through the steps you must take to comply with your duty. You may find it useful to employ a specialist enterprise, such as AMS, to create a management plan. The actions it identifies can be delegated to a competent person to carry out in your stead, but you must be involved in the final assessment of the potential risk, as you will have the most in-depth knowledge of how the premises are used and what potential disturbances are likely to occur. You can find an in-depth, step-by-step guide to help you to comply with your duty here.

Remember, the responsibility for complying with the duty to manage the danger is vested in you. This is a duty you might not welcome, but one you must comply with; the health and safety of all those who use the building is in your hands, and you are responsible for protecting them. Make sure that you don’t let them down. 

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