Asbestos is a very harmful mineral fibre that was used extensively in buildings between 1950 to 1980.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, which all have in common their eponymous asbestiform habit: i.e. long, thin fibrous crystals, with each visible fibre composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils” that can be released by abrasion and other processes.
Use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 but you can still find it in many properties. Landlords should assume that asbestos is present in all pre-2000 buildings. 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. 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 and breathed into your lungs.
If it’s in good condition and not damaged or disturbed then it shouldn’t present a risk. But if the fibres become loose, they might be inhaled, which could result in diseases of the lungs and chest lining. That might take between 15 and 60 years to develop.
A landlord’s duty
Under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, landlords have certain duties towards their tenants to minimise the risks of exposure to asbestos. The landlord has responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises through a tenancy agreement or contract. The extent of the landlord’s duty will depend on the nature of the agreement.
This is relevant to rental properties because, as well as industrial, commercial and public buildings, ‘non-domestic premises’ also includes ‘common’ areas of certain domestic premises, such as purpose-built flats or houses converted into flats. Common areas might include:
- Lifts and lift shafts
- Boiler and plant rooms
- Roof spaces
- Bike shelters
What is duty?
- take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in
- presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
- make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing materials – or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos
- assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified
- prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed
- take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
- periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date
- provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them
There is also a requirement on others to co-operate as far as is necessary to allow the duty holder to comply with the above requirements.
The flat itself is not included and ‘common’ areas would not include rooms within a private residence that are shared by more than one household. For example, bathrooms and kitchens in shared houses, and communal dining rooms and lounges in sheltered accommodation.
Summary of The HSE asbestos checklist
- Find out if asbestos is present at the premises
- Presume material is asbestos until proved otherwise
- Survey and sample for asbestos
- Assess the condition of the asbestos-containing material
- Record where the asbestos or presumed asbestos is and its condition. Put together a drawing or plan of its location.
- Assess the potential risk of the asbestos and whether it’s likely to be damaged or disturbed
- Decide what to do
- Take appropriate action
- Check what you’ve done
- Monitor and review the effectiveness of the plan
Any handling of asbestos should be performed by a specialist. If asbestos is identified, verify what state it’s in and then take the following steps:
Asbestos in good condition
- Monitor the condition of the material at regular intervals
- Label the material, where practical
- Make sure all contractors and other workers who are likely to disturb material are informed of the actual and potential presence of asbestos
Minor asbestos damage
- Repair/encapsulate the material
- Regularly monitor the condition of the material
- Label the material, where practical
- Make sure contractors and other workers who are likely to disturb material are informed of the actual or potential presence of asbestos
Asbestos in poor condition
- Remove the asbestos
- Remove any asbestos likely to be disturbed
Always exercise caution when it comes to asbestos. If you suspect or are aware of asbestos in your premises, contact a specialist to ensure that neither you nor your tenants are at risk.
Do I need a licensed contractor to remove/work on asbestos in my premises?
If ACMs need to be sealed, encapsulated or removed, remember you will need to employ a licensed contractor if the materials are high risk (asbestos pipe insulation and asbestos insulating panels). If the materials are lower risk (eg asbestos cement sheets and roofing) then an unlicensed but competent contractor may carry out this work. Further details on non-licensed work with asbestos are available online.
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