If you’re the owner of a house, unit, block of flats or other residential or commercial property, you need to be well informed about your legal responsibilities when it comes to the safety of your tenants.
One area in particular that you should be up to date on is that of asbestos. The substance was banned from use in the United Kingdom in 1999, but unfortunately it can still be found in many properties across Great Britain. It should be assumed that some asbestos could likely be found in any structures that were built prior to the year 2000.
While buildings that are still in good condition should remain safe for residents and visitors, any time there is damage, or the structure of a building is disturbed and asbestos fibres become loose and can be inhaled, people are put at risk of a variety of diseases that affect the lungs and the lining of the chest.
These asbestos-related diseases can take years to show, but once diagnosed, people can put in a personal injury compensation claim for illnesses such as lung cancer, Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, Pleural Plaques, and Diffuse Pleural Thickening.
If you’re keen to avoid facing legal and/or financial consequences from dangers posed in property you own, read on for the top information you need to be aware of about asbestos and your responsibilities as a landlord.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was particularly popular as a building material between the 1940s and late 80s, before the risks to humans were realised. Asbestos is a generic term that refers to a variety of fibrous silicate minerals, and it comes in different shapes, sizes, and colours.
While most types were blue, brown, or white, it was often mixed with other materials and therefore can be difficult to spot.
Common products that were made of asbestos are fibro cement/sheeting; artificial brick cladding; ceiling insulation; roofing shingles and guttering; water, drainage and flue pipes; textured paint; architectural cement pipe columns; vinyl floor tiles; and insulation in stoves, hot water pipes and old domestic heaters.
Asbestos poses a risk to health when asbestos fibres are breathed in. When exposed to these fibres, generally on a frequent basis or for an extended period of time, people can develop a number of life-threatening diseases.
These include illnesses such as lung cancer; Mesothelioma (a cancer that affects the pleura, the covering of the lung, and lining of the chest wall and diaphragm); Asbestosis (progressive scar tissue on the lungs that affects breathing); and Pleural Plaques (thickened patches of scar tissue that develop on the pleura of the lung).
Apart from the common incidence of workers breathing in fibres on the job, some people have also been unknowingly exposed when the fibres were carried into their home on the skin, hair, or clothing of others.
As a landlord, you have set legal duties to your tenants to minimise their risk of exposure to asbestos. You must ensure that any non-domestic premises are maintained or repaired as needed. These responsibilities fall under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
On top of industrial, commercial and public buildings, the common areas of domestic premises like flats must also be looked after. Common areas include things such as foyers, staircases, lifts and lift shafts, corridors, roof spaces, gardens, garages, sheds, store rooms, boiler and plant rooms and more. Note though that the flat itself isn’t included, or any rooms within a private residence shared by multiple households (e.g. kitchens and bathrooms in shared houses).
To abide by the legal requirements, you should follow the UK Health and Safety Executive’s asbestos checklist. Items on this list include finding out if any asbestos is present at the premise; taking a sample to check for the substance; assessing the condition of any material containing the toxic material; taking note of where any asbestos is, as well as its condition; and taking appropriate action.
If asbestos is found in a building, there will be different steps to take according to the condition it is in. For example, if in good condition, with low risk to health, the asbestos can be monitored regularly, labelled, and clearly pointed out to any workers who might potentially disturb it.
If, on the other hand, it is in poor condition or has been disturbed, it will need to be removed immediately. However, you must make sure that asbestos is only handled with great care by a specialist at all times. Never attempt to remove it if you haven’t had the proper training.