According to statistics provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Every year 1,000 people who have been involved in carrying out building maintenance and repair work die as a result of past exposure to asbestos fibres and it is estimated that half a million commercial buildings still contain asbestos.
Buildings all need repair and maintenance work from time to time and it is when asbestos fibres are disturbed, e.g. by drilling or cutting, that they are most likely to be inhaled as a deadly dust. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 introduced a legal duty to manage asbestos. The duty applies to all non-domestic buildings and the common areas of residential rented buildings.
If you are responsible for maintenance and repairs of premises covered by the Regulations, you have a duty to manage asbestos if:
- you own the building;
- you are responsible through a contract or tenancy agreement; or
- there is no formal contract or agreement but you have control of the building.
Whilst a building constructed in or after 2000 is unlikely to contain asbestos, if it was built on a brownfield site or contains old equipment (for example ovens, brakes, soundproofing, insulating mats, fire blankets, oven gloves or ironing surfaces), it is important to follow the correct steps in order to comply with the law.
The ‘duty holder’ must take reasonable steps to find out if the premises contain asbestos and, if they do, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in. Unless there is strong evidence that the building does not contain any asbestos material, it must be assumed that it does.
The HSE has published new guidance, which takes duty holders through the process of understanding their obligations with regard to the management of asbestos. This includes a useful checklist of each step that must be taken and an example of an asbestos management plan. In addition, it can also help you decide whether or not you need to use an HSE licensed contractor to carry out planned maintenance work.