Who is Responsible For Managing Asbestos?
August 25th, 2022
Last updated: June 9th, 2023
Asbestos is extremely dangerous, as you probably already know. The fact that it was used so much in the UK for a period of time means that it is still common to find it in old buildings, and this can pose a big problem for the owners and operators of commercial premises, as well as landlords.
Who is responsible for managing asbestos under UK law? What are the rules and regulations and how can you ensure that you are not liable if there are illnesses relating to asbestos in a building you manage?
In the words of HSE:
“The duty to manage asbestos is directed at those who manage non-domestic premises: the people with responsibility for protecting others who work in such premises, or use them in other ways, from the risks to ill health that exposure to asbestos causes.”
There’s a lot more to it than this simple statement. If you find asbestos in your commercial property then there are numerous rules and regulations regarding what you will need to do about it. On top of this, you’ll need to work out whether asbestos can be “managed” or whether you need to get it removed. This can be very costly. An asbestos survey is the best way to work out the severity and risk attached to your building.
A Background on Asbestos
While it hasn’t been used in construction for over 20 years, asbestos was once commonplace. It causes Asbestosis, which, according to HSE, is “a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.” It can also contribute to lung cancer.
Even today, around 5000 people every year die from asbestos-related illnesses, so you can see why it is such a big problem. Who is responsible for managing the risks of asbestos? Well, if a commercial building owner or operator fails to act and manage asbestos, they could find themselves the subject of legal action.
What Are The Duties to Manage Asbestos?
HSE has guidelines on the duties to manage asbestos and what this actually means. They include taking steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, which usually means an asbestos survey. This is a way to ensure trained professionals have helped you to understand the asbestos on your premises, and what sort of danger it poses.
You must also have an up-to-date record of the location and the condition the asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. For instance, if it should become damaged the chances of it releasing harmful fibres could be much worse. You must also “prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed.”
Managing asbestos often means keeping records on where the asbestos is and the condition that it is in, to ensure that it is not being released and people are not being exposed to it.
If left undisturbed, it is possible that asbestos may still be safe to be around. HSE outlines the “control limit” for asbestos, which is the level in the air that should not be exceeded to ensure safety:
“At the moment, the control limit is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). The control limit is not a ‘safe’ level and work activities involving asbestos should be designed to be as far below the control limit as possible. HSE has progressively tightened the control limit since 1987.”
Who is Ultimately Responsible For Asbestos?
The details of this will be in your contract. If you own a building outright then it is very likely that it is you and you alone who is responsible for managing asbestos.
There are examples of leases and contracts where asbestos has been found, and there is an ongoing management plan carried out by the building owners. If you are leasing a commercial property from somebody else, check your contract to see who is actually responsible.
The Potential Punishments For Not Managing Asbestos
If it is your responsibility to ensure building compliance, and you fail to do so, there are some serious penalties. You need to make a plan to deal with the asbestos in your building and to limit the impact it has, and if not, you could receive:
- a fine of up to £20,000
- imprisonment for up to 12 months
The Government website also explains that “For a serious breach you could face an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years.”
As you can see, this is not something to take lightly.
If the building has been fully built since the year 2000 then it is considered safe to assume that there is no asbestos on site. This means that you don’t have to worry about whether or not there is asbestos within the building or the potential risks it could cause.
Never assume that because a building looks modern it has been built in recent years, as it could have been renovated and may still have some asbestos on site.
Help With Asbestos
Asbestos is very dangerous and like fire protection and other parts of health and safety, it is not something to take chances with.
For peace of mind, a full asbestos survey is a good idea. Robinsons Facilities Services can offer both risk assessments and asbestos surveys, with prompt service and a goal of keeping people safe.
Working across Yorkshire, we cover North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and South Yorkshire and offer a fast, efficient response time to all breakdowns and repairs. Contact us today, call 01423 226578 or get in touch to see how Robinsons Facilities Services can help.