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Your legal responsibilities

Asbestos dust can cause fatal diseases even when that person hasn't been exposed to it very much. The more dust you're exposed to, the more likely you are to become ill.

You must manage any asbestos in your workplace so that no one is put at risk.

What law applies?

  • The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
  • The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

Where can it be found?

Asbestos was used in many building products, including wall panelling, fireproofing, ducting covers and pipe work, and in some unusual places such as in thermoplastic floor tiles and decorative wall coverings (e.g. Artex).

The location and condition of most of it aren't known. Only specialist techniques can properly identify asbestos.

Asbestos was banned from 1999 so if your building was constructed after this date, it is highly unlikely that any asbestos will be present and no further survey will be needed.

There are two exceptions to this: if the premises are built on a 'brownfield site', or if there is old equipment on the site such as ovens, brakes, soundproofing, insulating mats, fire blankets, or oven gloves. A brownfield site is an area of land that was previously developed, typically for industrial building, and may have materials buried that contain asbestos.

If your premises were constructed before 1999 or it is on a brownfield site or there is old equipment on the site, a management survey is required.

A management survey is the standard survey. Its purpose is to locate, as far as reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspected asbestos in the building or on the site, which could be damaged or disturbed during normal occupancy.

Who is at risk?

Most at risk are those who maintain or demolish buildings such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and decorators — namely anyone who is likely to cut, drill, smash or disturb asbestos and create dust.

People near these kinds of work can also be affected (e.g. office employees when an office is being rewired for telephones or computers, or tenants when plumbing repairs are being done in service ducts on their property).

Duty holders

The duty holder is generally the landlord of the property or the person (such as a tenant or employer) who has a contractual obligation (such as in a lease or tenancy agreement) to maintain or repair the property. If there is no contract or tenancy, the duty holder will be the person in control of the non-domestic premises.

The law requires certain duty holders to:

  • Find out whether the building contains asbestos, note its location and assess what condition it's in.
  • Assess the risk, e.g. if it's likely to release fibres.
  • Plan to manage that risk.

If you have asbestos-containing materials in the workplace, you must check the condition of the material every 6–12 months. You must carry out checks even if the material is in good condition and it's not likely to be disturbed. You should also label all asbestos as one way of alerting people. These are legal requirements, and no one can work with asbestos-containing material unless you comply with the rules.

Managing asbestos

To manage asbestos, you should carry out the following:

  • Check what you already know about your buildings by looking at plans and other documents.
  • Contact others who may know useful information about the building, such as a surveyor, an architect or a contractor who knows the building.
  • Inspect the building yourself or use an independent expert.
  • Record the results of the inspection, identifying the parts of the building where asbestos may be found.
  • Assess the risk of asbestos fibres being released into the air from the materials in those areas. Consider the condition of the asbestos and how likely it is to be damaged or disturbed.
  • Draw up a management plan. State which areas, if any, need asbestos to be sealed, covered or, as a last resort, removed. The key part of the plan is to warn people coming to work on the building, so that you can prevent accidental exposure.
  • Regularly check the condition of materials to make sure it hasn't deteriorated. Concentrate on areas of high risk, where materials are more likely to get damaged.
  • Keep the management plan up-to-date to show any changes that could affect the risk.

Your legal duty is to manage any asbestos in a building, not to remove it. The regulations aim to protect employees and others from asbestos fibres. You shouldn't try to remove any asbestos that is in good condition and is unlikely to be disturbed.

Other legislation

The following may be useful in circumstances not covered by the new regulations where asbestos is present in buildings, particularly rented domestic accommodation:

  • The Defective Premises Act 1972 (not applicable in Scotland)
  • The Defective Premises (Northern Ireland) Order 1975
  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • The Hazardous Waste Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005

More information

See the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) guidance on the management of asbestos in non-domestic premises (PDF).

HSENI have also produced a checklist (PDF) for managing asbestos, along with a brief overview guide (PDF).

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