The Duty To Manage Asbestos

Asbestos in buildings is not something which concerns most practice managers, but should it?

What is required to manage asbestos?

Do you know whether your practice premises contain asbestos or not? It was commonly used in buildings from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s, but any building built up to around 2000 can have asbestos in it. Do you know whether you should be managing this, whether someone else should be, or whether you should be informed of the asbestos status or the building by someone else? You need to find out. There are many variables in assessing what your responsibilities or rights are, but you should know where your practice sits and which scenario applies.

General Duty on managing asbestos

There is a general duty to manage asbestos, directed at those who manage non-domestic premises -  the people with responsibility for protecting others who work or use such premises, from the risks to ill health that exposure to asbestos causes. Various tradesmen who work on the premises such as plumbers, joiners, roofers and electricians are particularly at risk.

The person who is the “duty holder” may vary, according to the nature of the arrangements set up to manage or control the premises, especially when they are leasehold, rented, or not directly owned by the partners. The duty holder is usually the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of the premises through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract.

In a building occupied by one leaseholder, the agreement might be for either the owner or leaseholder to take on the full duty for the whole building; or it might be to share the duty. In a multi-occupied building, the agreement might be that the owner takes on the full duty for the whole building. Or it might be that the duty is shared - for example, the owner takes responsibility for the common parts while the leaseholders take responsibility for the parts they occupy. Sometimes, there might be an agreement to pass the responsibilities to a managing agent.

In some cases, there may be no tenancy agreement or contract, if there is, it may not specify who has responsibility for the maintenance or repair of the premises. In these cases the duty is placed on whoever has control of the premises, or part of the premises. Often this will be the owner. You need to establish where the responsibility lies as a first step.

Regulation for asbestos management

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 outlines the duty to manage, and in particular requires the duty holder to:

  • Take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in the premises, and if so, how much, the location (s) and its condition. Keep a record of your actions and findings – you may be asked for it.

  • Make a presumption that materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not.

  • Keep full records showing the location and condition of any asbestos, or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos. Also keep a record of areas of the building which were checked, but where asbestos was not found.

  • Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified.

  • Make a plan of how the risks will be managed, and implement it.

  • Make sure you review and monitor the plan regularly.

  • Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them. This should be done proactively where workers are on site for them to assess themselves whether they are at risk in the areas in which they will work.

  • Where a worker considers that they are potentially at risk they should not commence work. If there are no records or surveys available, or they are unclear, they should not start work. Hence it is important to make sure that you are up to date.

Remember that asbestos is only dangerous if it is disturbed. If it is safely managed and contained, then it doesn't usually present a health hazard, but you may need to use a licensed contractor. There is no need to remove asbestos unnecessarily as removing it can be more dangerous than just leaving it in place  and managing it properly.

It is not necessary to bring in a specialist to examine your building in every case - you can inspect your own building – but if you do employ a surveyor to do this for you then you must make sure they are competent to do so.

If you are unsure about whether certain materials are asbestos, or contain it, you can presume they do and treat them as such.

To learn more about managing asbestos, go to the Health and Safety Executive website


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