Is Global Asbestos Awareness Week Still Relevant Given Covid-19?

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

it's global asbestos awareness week - what can you do?

Absolutely it is.

5,500 people die every year in the UK alone from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. Worldwide, 742,000 die every year from work-related cancers including those caused by exposure to asbestos.

Are these asbestos-related deaths in the UK just the result of legacy exposures? Or, only caused by fly-by-night operators cutting corners? No, and no. The NHS alone has seen 13 prosecutions since 2010 and 381 compensation claims since 2013 leading to £26m in pay-outs.

In the UK, we still have 6 million tonnes of asbestos in our schools (80%+ of them), hospitals (almost all London hospitals) and 1.5 million other UK buildings. As concerning as it is that our front line NHS workers are struggling to treat Covid-19 patients without adequate PPE, our brave doctors and nurses are still contracting mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos in our hospitals today. As are our teachers in schools and likely patients in hospitals and kids in schools.

So, please support GAAW (April 1-7) as you would ordinarily do.

We had an interesting question arise as we sent out invites to our most recent webinar on asbestos (see the left sidebar):

Question: Experience tells us that buildings of a certain age circa 2000 still contain traces of ACM in left over materials used by unscrupulous builders.  These buildings in the last 20 years have undergone significant changes and refits however records tend to tail off, have never been considered or lost in change of occupancy.   It would be good to understand clearly obligations of a new owner or tenant towards surveys, management processes and the such like as intrusive surveys in sometimes critical environments can be both expensive and a logistical nightmare.

This is an interesting question given you would assume that buildings built post-2000 would be free of asbestos but in researching our response we found one asbestos consultancy state that they had asbestos in 4 buildings built after 2000.

Here’s our response after asking industry experts in the field of asbestos and asbestos removal.

Answer: The law is clear with respect to the determination of asbestos in non-domestic buildings – the dutyholder must carry out a sufficient and suitable assessment to determine the presence of any asbestos on the premises. Hence surveys.

The dutyholder can be an owner, tenant or premises controller under Regulation 4 of CAR 2012 (i.e. the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises, through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract).

The extent of the duties depends on how much control is retained under the lease. Where a whole building has been leased on a full repairing and insuring (FRI) basis, in practice there is very little the landlord will be expected to do. Compliance with health and safety law rests with the tenant. This assertion came from a leading Health and Safety lawyer.

Regulation 4 of CAR 2012 states that the dutyholder should “presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not.” It doesn’t differentiate between buildings built pre-2000 and those built afterwards. This ‘strong evidence’ would need to be written confirmation from all trades used in the construction and the architect that asbestos wasn’t used.

Industry example – a building that was notified to me [the industry expert] was built in 2004. It therefore should not have had any asbestos present. We nevertheless had to examine a detailed raft of relevant documents to establish that no ACM’s were present in the building. At the end of the process no ACM’s were found but the assessment work had to be done. The trigger for that assessment work was was a prospective tenant who wanted to be sure there were no ACM’s on the premises. We had to check through all the construction documentation produced under CDM including architects records to be sure.

This example may seem contradictory to the assertion from the H&S lawyer referenced above, but it suggests that a prospective tenant/new owner should take the opportunity to ensure the absence of asbestos from the landlord/previous owner prior to signing the tenancy/purchase agreement.

For details on how e-permits can help you prevent exposure to asbestos in your business by ensuring implementation of CAR 2012 regulations please check out the webinar ‘It’s Global Asbestos Awareness Week – What Can You Do?’ in the left sidebar.

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