Asbestos – What Our Tenants Need To Know

What is asbestos?

Basically asbestos is a set of naturally occurring silicate minerals that are mined and used commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their eponymous “asbestiform” habit/shape: long (roughly 1:20 aspect ratio), thin fibrous crystals.

The prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses. As such, all trade and public use of asbestos (particularly in building materials) was banned in the UK back in 1999.

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Why is asbestos dangerous?

When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4,500 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

Asbestos fibres are present in the environment in Great Britain so people are commonly exposed to very low levels of fibres. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels, can increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos related diseases won’t affect immediately but later on in life, so there is a need for you to protect yourself now to prevent you contracting an asbestos-related disease in the future. It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

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Why should it be of concern to our Tenants?

Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Any building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals, etc.) can contain asbestos.

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Where might asbestos containing materials (ACMs) be found within a building?

As the majority of buildings in the UK were built before 2000, asbestos containing materials (ACMs) might well be present in many of them today. These ACMs can commonly be found in the form of flooring tiles, electrical fuse casings, asbestos insulation boarding (AIB), pipe insulation, lagging, sprayed on coatings to ceilings/walls/beams/columns (which act as a fire retardant), corrugated roofing materials, asbestos cement boarding (which, again, was used as a fire retardant material), textured decorative coatings (such as Artex), toilet cisterns, water tanks, etc.

You can find out more about where ACMs might be found/located in buildings by visiting Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) webpage on the subject here.

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Are our Tenant’s at risk?

Despite the fact that prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can damage one’s health, ACMs that are/remain in good condition are safe unless the asbestos fibres (contained within these materials) become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.

As long as these ACMs are inspected regularly (at least once a year) by a Dutyholder and left undisturbed (one does not drill into them, break them up or try to remove them), they should remain in good condition.

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Who is a “Dutyholder” with regard to managing asbestos?

As HSE stipulate on their website (see here), you are a “Dutyholder” if:

a) you own the building;
b) you are responsible through a contract or tenancy agreement;
c) there is no formal contract or agreement but you have control of the building;
d) in a multi-­occupied building, you are the owner and have taken responsibility for maintenance and repairs for the whole building.

As a responsible Landlord (and Dutyholder), we have undertaken Type 2 surveys in all of our commercial premises to identify as many ACMs as possible with this type of survey. These surveys show where any discovered ACMs within the building/demise/premises are located and advises on how to effectively manage them.

We make sure that these surveys are provided to our Tenants (who are also Dutyholders) so that they know where the ACMs are to be found and how to effectively manage them during their Tenancy there i.e. do not drill into them, do not disturb them, etc.

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As a Dutyholder, what are my responsibilities for managing asbestos on the premises?

HSE have published a detailed guide on their website to take Dutyholders through the process of understanding their duties in managing asbestos, as defined in “Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012”. We strongly recommend that all our Tenants read through this guide in order to understand exactly what is required of them when managing asbestos on their premises.

We also recommend that all our Tenants read through this brief guide by HSE on “How to manage Asbestos in buildings”. It is a handy abbreviated document that one can print off and keep with their yearly inspection notes as a quick reference guide to what is required of them.

HSE also provide a brief eight step guide to a Dutyholder’s responsibility with regard to managing asbestos on their premises (see here). Again, we recommend that all our Tenants read through this to review their responsibilities as a Dutyholder.

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I am a Tenant who is considering undertaking renovation/demolition (R&D) works to our Leased premises. What do I need to consider before I undertake any works?

As Tenants, you are “Dutyholders” who must consider whether any renovation and demolition (R&D) works will affect or disturb any ACMs located on the premises. You will need to ensure that you notify all Contractors before any works commence about where all the ACMs are located on the premises and what to do in the event that these ACMs become damaged/disturbed during works. Bearing this in mind, you WILL need to undertake a full R&D Asbestos Survey of the premises to make sure that ALL and ANY asbestos on the premises, along with the type of asbestos these materials contains, is documented and given to the Contractors and all other Dutyholders.

In some cases you will need to remove certain types of “High Risk” ACM before works can commence. However, before disturbing/removing any ACMs, you should always consult an accredited asbestos removal company to find out whether the ACM(s) in question require notification to HSE prior to removal by a licenced asbestos removal company, or whether they can be removed by unlicenced contractors. If you do not do this, you could expose yourself, your clients and/or the Contractors to harmful asbestos fibers, which could require you to notify HSE directly using their RIDDOR report form.

PLEASE NOTE – When in doubt as to whether a material is an ACM… Always presume that it is and get it tested by an accredited asbestos testing company!

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I am a contractor. What do I need to consider/know about working with/near ACMs?

Either ourselves (the Landlord) or our Tenants (depending on who is undertaking the works) should provide you with a R&D type asbestos survey before hand. All notifiable ACMs will have been removed prior your commencing works and, as such, you will be provided with an “Air Test” to show that there is a safe environment in which to work.

Most R&D asbestos surveys will show up any ACMs present on site. However… If, during your works, you suspect that a material you uncover might be an ACM not mentioned in the R&D survey… STOP WORK IMMEDIATELY and notify the “Dutyholder” about your concern, asking them to either demonstrate that the material is not an ACM (by way of a report), or (if in doubt) ask them to get it tested by an accredited asbestos testing company!

For further reading on this, we advise all Contractors to visit HSE’s “Asbestos Essentials” webpage by clicking here.

We also advise that all Contractors read through this HSE document here to understand a bit more about what is required of them when working with any type of ACM.

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If you are Tenant of ours and would like a copy of the “Asbestos Survey Report” we hold on file for your property, please contact us directly by using any of the details provided here.