Asbestos – risks and responsibilities
Employers and commercial property owners should be aware of their responsibilities regarding asbestos. This is particularly relevant for owners and occupiers of agricultural buildings where asbestos is commonly used as insulating material.
The disturbance or disrepair of materials containing asbestos will cause the asbestos fibres to become airborne, and inhaling these fibres can potentially cause fatal diseases. Certain diseases are caused by frequent and prolonged exposure to asbestos; however even short and low level exposure can cause issues. Asbestos-related diseases are said to be the greatest cause of occupational deaths in the country and the symptoms generally do not present themselves until decades after the asbestos exposure has occurred.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 was brought into force to upgrade and consolidate the existing legislation in this area. The key provisions of the regulations include:
- An obligation in relation to the maintenance or repair of a non-domestic property.
- An obligation to assess whether or not asbestos is or is likely to be on the premises.
- The requirement for an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the asbestos containing materials should be kept, and the risk to those coming into contact with these materials should be assessed.
- The requirement for a plan as to how such risks will be managed should then be put in place and regularly reviewed.
- High risk work involving asbestos must only be carried out by a licensed contractor. Examples of ‘high risk’ work include the removal of pipe lagging or roof sheeting where the material will be damaged or broken causing asbestos fibres to become airborne. All licensed work, and some categories of non-licensed work, must be reported to the relevant enforcing body (typically the Health and Safety Executive or local authority) in advance of the work commencing.
- Any work involving asbestos, irrespective of whether it is being carried out by a licensed contractor, requires a risk assessment to be completed and implemented before it is carried out.
The consequences of failing to follow the regulations can result in criminal proceedings, with the penalty being a fine or imprisonment. Personal injury proceedings may also be instigated many years down the line, if a person develops an asbestos-related condition through exposure to asbestos. It is therefore vital that anyone who owns a commercial building takes all necessary steps to comply with the 2012 Regulations.
Daniel Fairs is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.
This article previously appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times 22nd July 2017.