The World Health Organisation estimates asbestos is responsible for 170,000 deaths a year. Even if we completely eradicate asbestos fibres from entering the environment, enough people have already been exposed to maintain this figure for the next 80 years as it can take 10-50 years for asbestos related symptoms to develop.
There are 4 main lung diseases associated with breathing in asbestos fibres:
Before its dangers were known, asbestos was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and sprayed on ceilings and walls.
It is now banned in the UK, and buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them.
If the asbestos containing materials inside these buildings remain intact, they pose very little risk.
It’s only when these materials are damaged or disturbed that tiny asbestos fibres can be released into the air which can be breathed into your lungs.
Asbestos is found in a surprisingly large number of building materials. Common occurrences in the maintenance of residential leasehold buildings include: Floor tiles & their adhesive, corrugated cement sheets on garage roofs, plasterboard sheets, pipes, water tanks, types of paint, ceiling tiles etc.
Asbestos refers to six unique minerals made of microscopic fibres, belonging to the serpentine and amphibole families.
The three main types of asbestos that you may come across whilst carrying out building work are:
Chrysotile (white asbestos) which is the most commonly used type of asbestos possessing high flexibility and good heat resistant properties, making it ideal for use in cement, brake pads/linings and roofing materials.
Amosite (brown asbestos) is a particularly strong and heat-resistant type of asbestos that was commonly used in cement sheet, plumbing insulation and electrical insulation. Though all types of asbestos are toxic, amosite asbestos exposure has a comparatively higher cancer risk.
Crocidolite (blue asbestos) has very thin fibres and, if inhaled, are easily lodged in the lungs making it one of the most harmful forms of asbestos, as it easily breaks down and leads to asbestos exposure.
The law surrounding asbestos is contained in The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and 2012 which sets out the need for the ‘Duty Holder’ to assume the presence of asbestos unless testing proves negative, and maintain a register of the presence of every occurrence of asbestos on the premises which should be updated by named individuals as described in the Asbestos Management Plan.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, as it applies to leasehold property, the non-domestic premises relates to the communal areas which are considered to be “places of work”. For these areas the requirements of the Duty Holder fall principally on the freeholder, the management company, the right to manage company and the managing agent.
Specific testing by trained and licensed individuals must be carried out, sampling different materials from the communal spaces, laboratory testing and then compiling a report of the findings in an Asbestos Risk Register.
The Asbestos Risk Register details the presence, type and location of all sources of asbestos, including those that are assumed to be present but aren’t tested, and what steps should be taken to control any risk to health. This can include:
Generally speaking, asbestos is not a risk to health providing that it is not cut or damaged nor that it deteriorates in any way. For this reason most risk register will recommend the regular inspection of asbestos containing materials until there is sufficient cause to remove the asbestos.
Once the asbestos materials have been identified there needs to be a way to control what happens to them over time and monitor their deterioration, movement or damage. The Asbestos Management Plan needs to be simple and easy to understand, and should:
Finally the action plan must be dated and signed by the Duty Holder that has prepared it, and the plan itself must be periodically reviewed if nothing changes about the states of the asbestos, or immediately if the state does change such as something being damaged or removed.
The Asbestos Management Plan should be communicated to residents and should be available to all contractors who carry out work on site.
Managing asbestos is as much about education and awareness as it is proactive intervention, because asbestos is usually fine if left alone, but is often disturbed by well intentioned but misinformed residents and contractors.
If you do any work in the communal parts of a residential development be sure to speak to the management company to find out if asbestos is present and inform them of any work you undertake.