- What is asbestos and why is it a problem?
- Asbestos at work
- Asbestos in your home
- Disposal of Asbestos Waste
- Asbestos Do’s and Don’ts
- Contact Us
What is asbestos and why is it a problem?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material and was used extensively as a building material up to 1999 for fire-proofing and insulation in both commercial and domestic buildings. Common types of asbestos containing materials include:
- Asbestos cement; such as garage roofs
- Asbestos insulation board
- Textured coatings
- Lagging around boilers and hot pipes
See the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) website (external link) for locations in residential and industrial properties where asbestos containing materials may be found.
Asbestos containing materials in good condition are safe. It is when the material becomes broken or damaged and the fibres become airborne that they are dangerous as the fibres can be inhaled and can cause serious diseases.
If a person inhales asbestos fibres (which are microscopic, long and thin) they can become lodged in the tissue of the chest and the body’s natural defences may not be able to easily break them down. This can lead to lung diseases (mainly cancers), particularly if the person is repeatedly exposed to fibres over a number of years.
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.
Asbestos at work
Duty to manage
Under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012, the employer, the self-employed and those in control of premises all have a duty to prevent exposure to asbestos. If you own or are responsible for premises you must have identified where, if any, asbestos is located and must have recorded its locations and drawn up a strategy or action plan for dealing with it. In many cases, the "duty holder" is the person or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract.
- Please visit the HSE website - duty to manage asbestos page (external link) for more information
In cases where there is:
- no tenancy agreement or contract, or
- the agreement or contract does not specify who has responsibility for the maintenance or repair, 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.
What premises are affected?
The duty to manage covers all non-domestic premises. Such premises include all industrial, commercial or public buildings such as factories, warehouses, offices, shops, hospitals and schools.
Non-domestic premises also include those 'common' areas of certain domestic premises ie: purpose-built flats or houses converted into flats. The common areas of such domestic premises might include foyers, corridors, lifts and lift-shafts, staircases, roof spaces, gardens, yards, outhouses and garages - but would not include the flat itself. Such common areas would not include rooms within a private residence that are shared by more than one household such as bathrooms, kitchens etc in shared houses and communal dining rooms and lounges in sheltered accommodation.
Further detail is set out on the HSE website - What premises are affected? (external link) and includes which are likely to be classified as domestic or non-domestic for the purposes of the duty to manage.
To summarise there are three essential steps duty holders need take:
- Find out whether the premises contain asbestos, and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in. If in doubt, materials must be presumed to contain asbestos
- Assess the risk, and
- Make a plan to manage that risk and act on it
The duty to manage is all about putting in place the practical steps necessary to protect maintenance workers and others from the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. It is not about removing all asbestos.
There are different types of asbestos materials. Work on some materials will require a contractor issued with a valid HSE asbestos licence. This includes work with asbestos insulation, asbestos coating or asbestos insulating board. They must also satisfy the HSE that they have adequate knowledge, organisation and arrangements to carry out the work safely without detriment to the health of their employees or others who could be affected by their operation.
For work with other asbestos-containing materials, the contractor will not require a licence but still must demonstrate it is a competent contractor to do that work.
In the workplace, further advice and information can be found on the HSE website's Asbestos pages (external link).
Asbestos in your home
- The general rule is to always leave asbestos alone if it is in good condition - it is usually safe unless it is damaged or disturbed. If you have damaged asbestos materials in your home you should seek advice on appropriate action to take
- Asbestos materials that are badly damaged or deteriorating can release asbestos fibres and should be removed. Asbestos-containing materials (sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards) must always be removed by contractors who are specially licensed to do this work
- If you are planning home improvements or maintenance and have asbestos in your home, you must always inform builders, maintenance workers or contractors before they start work. Never sand, drill or saw asbestos materials
- Always seek advice before thinking of removing asbestos and follow the basic rules below if carrying out asbestos cement removal work. The Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) website (external link) contains more information.
Disposal of Asbestos Waste
The Corporation of London operates an asbestos collection service for householders across London, provided the asbestos is bagged up. This service is for asbestos cement waste only. For further information contact the Corporation of London on 020 7332 3433 or visit the Corporation of London website (external link).
This service is available to every household in all 33 London boroughs and is very busy, so you may experience some delays. There is a charge for this service as the waste is taken to a special registered waste site.
If as a householder, you intend to transport asbestos cement waste in your own vehicle, you do not need to be a registered carrier provided that it is your own waste. However, you should take the following steps to ensure that asbestos does not contaminate your car:
- Spray sheets of asbestos cement with water
- Double wrap or double bag the asbestos cement with heavy-duty polythene
- Ensure the wrapping is secured with tape
- Make sure vehicle occupants do not have access to the asbestos waste
Asbestos Do’s and Don’ts
- Don't panic if you think you have asbestos in your home - it's usually only a problem if it's disturbed or damaged
- Do treat asbestos with respect
- Don't drill, saw or disturb materials that contain asbestos
- Do seek advice if you think you've got a problem with it
Commercial Environmental Health
Level 4 - Aleandra House
10 Station Road
Tel: 020 8489 1335.
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