What is Asbestos?
Asbestos refers to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Asbestos has six primary sub-classifications: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Among these, chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite asbestos are the most common.
Asbestos is extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos were the reasons that supported its use for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial buildings. The strength of asbestos, combined with its resistance to heat, allowed it to become the material of choice in a variety of products.
Asbestos is now strictly regulated as it became evident that asbestos is known to be a human carcinogen. Asbestos fibres are microscopic (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair), therefore is easily inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibres cling to the respiratory system, including the lining of the lungs and inner cavity tissue. As asbestos fibers are typically quite rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not expelled or broken-down by the body.
There is no safe type of asbestos and no safe level of exposure. Majority of those with exposure history are potentially at risk of serious respiratory health complications.
Duty to Manage Asbestos
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 dutyholder to comply with the above requirements.
Who has the duty?
The dutyholder is the owner of the non-domestic premises or the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises, for example through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract.
The extent of the duty will depend on the nature of that agreement. 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. Or, if there is, it may not specify who has responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises. In these cases, or where the premises are unoccupied, the duty is placed on whoever has control of the premises, or part of the premises. Often this will be the owner.
In public buildings, such as hospitals, schools and similar premises, the identity of the dutyholder will depend on how the responsibility for maintenance of the premises is allocated. For example, for most schools, the dutyholder will be the employer. Who the employer is varies with the type of school. For local authority managed schools, eg community schools and voluntary-controlled schools, the employer is the local authority. For voluntary-aided and foundation schools, it will be the school governors, and for academy and Free Schools, the academy trust will be the employer. For independent and fee-paying schools, it may be the proprietor, governors or trustees. Budgets for repair and maintenance of school buildings are sometimes delegated to schools by a local authority. In such cases, the duty to manage asbestos is shared between schools and the local authority.