Who Is Responsible for Asbestos Management?
Due to its durability, asbestos was commonly used in building materials prior to its banning by the UK in 1999, when it became clear that asbestos is carcinogenic.
Today, buildings that were constructed before the asbestos ban may still have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). While ACMs aren’t dangerous in an undamaged state, if they become disturbed, they could release asbestos fibres.
Every commercial property has a duty holder who is responsible for asbestos management on the premises. That individual is tasked with assessing the asbestos situation, monitoring it, taking steps to rectify any issues, and, most importantly, keeping everyone on the property safe.
Along with the duty holder, there are many other people and organizations that must work together for asbestos safety. In this article, we’ll discuss the roles and responsibilities of the key parties involved in asbestos management.
- 1 Understanding asbestos and its hazards
- 2 The legal framework
- 3 Key parties in asbestos management
- 4 The importance of developing an asbestos management plan
- 5 Educating and raising awareness
- 6 Wrapping up
Understanding asbestos and its hazards
Since asbestos is resistant to heat and fire, it was once a useful addition to all sorts of construction-related products, including cement, flooring, and insulation. It was also regularly used in car brakes.
The duty holder of a commercial building is often the only protection that employees and visitors have against asbestos exposure. Without proper asbestos management, individuals on the premises may not know that they’re disturbing asbestos with daily activities or that they’re regularly exposed to dangerous fibres.
While the presence of asbestos fibres doesn’t guarantee that people in the area will be exposed to the dangerous material, there’s no such thing as a safe asbestos exposure event.
Potential health effects a person may endure due to asbestos exposure depend on several factors:
- How much asbestos the person was exposed to
- How long the exposure lasted
- The type of exposure (skin contact vs. inhaling, for example)
- The type of asbestos involved
People who are exposed to even a low concentration of asbestos fibres over a long time period are at the highest risk of developing thickening of the lung lining. Additionally, all types of asbestos are carcinogenic.
The legal framework
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 are the legal guidelines for asbestos management in the UK. The guidelines are extensive, covering topics such as:
- The types of asbestos work that require a licensed professional vs. a non-licensed individual
- How to conduct an asbestos risk assessment
- The type of asbestos records that need to be kept
- Who holds the duty to manage asbestos on a property
- Protective equipment that should be worn when working with asbestos
Proper asbestos management is overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Since the HSE is responsible for asbestos compliance, it also determines consequences for non-compliance.
For duty holders and asbestos management companies that don’t comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, penalties include high fines and jail time.
Key parties in asbestos management
The duty holder isn’t the only person involved in asbestos management. Building owners, property managers, inspectors, contractors, and regulatory agencies are involved as well. In this section, we’ll discuss the role of each party or organization.
Often, it’s the building owner who has the duty to manage asbestos. This means that they must do the following:
- Identify ACMs on the premises or hire a specialist who can
- Create and maintain an asbestos management plan
- Comply with local regulations
While the building owner may have the duty to manage asbestos, they may task the property manager with day-to-day activities. According to the HSE, other people on the premises have to cooperate with the duty holder for the sake of compliance.
The property manager’s asbestos management responsibilities may include:
- Daily management of the property, including protecting ACMs from damage
- Coordinating asbestos inspections and assessments
- Communicating with contractors, employees, tenants, etc.
Note that it’s also possible that the property manager will be the duty holder. According to the HSE, the duty holder may be the owner of the premises, or they may be the person or company that is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the property.
Asbestos inspectors and assessors
Unless the duty holder or property manager has the ability to find and assess ACMs on the property, an inspector and assessor should be called. These asbestos professionals will do the following:
- Inspect the property for ACMs
- Test asbestos to determine its type
- Provide a report of their findings
- Make recommendations for asbestos management
- Ensure that the duty holder complies with asbestos regulations
While an asbestos contractor may come in to assess the situation, it’s still the duty holder’s responsibility to monitor ACMs for damage, keep records up-to-date, and arrange for asbestos repair or removal as needed.
Contractors and workers
In some cases, all ACMs on a property will be undamaged and undisturbed. This means that they don’t pose an immediate risk. Only damaged asbestos will release fibres; ACMs in their regular state aren’t cause for concern.
However, if problematic ACMs are found during the assessment, the duty holder will have to create a plan for encapsulating, sealing, or removing the asbestos.
There are situations when this work can be handled by a non-licensed worker. You can find information about working with asbestos here. The HSE pamphlet covers work that requires a licence as well as work that doesn’t.
Keep in mind that it’s always safest to hire a licenced asbestos contractor, even if you don’t technically need a licence to perform the asbestos work.
Experienced contractors will know how to properly handle and dispose of ACMs, especially if a demolition or renovation is planned. They’ll also comply with safety procedures and legal guidelines, and they’ll be able to provide their own protective equipment to use on the job.
The HSE is the agency in the UK that oversees asbestos regulations, and it works with local authorities as needed to further regulate health and safety in the workplace. It also works jointly with the Environment Agency, National Resources Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
The importance of developing an asbestos management plan
Every commercial property in the UK that contains asbestos must have an asbestos management plan. The plan will include the following information:
- The name and contact information of the person responsible for managing asbestos
- The asbestos register
- Plan for work on asbestos materials or for work that could disturb ACMs
- The schedule for monitoring the property’s ACMs
- The system for telling others about the property’s asbestos management
- Emergency plans in case the unexpected happens
The asbestos management plan can be either a hard copy or a digital copy. Either way, though, it must be accessible to everyone on the property.
Furthermore, the asbestos management plan must be reviewed and updated regularly, such as every 6 or 12 months. Additionally, if any work has or could disturb asbestos, it must be updated whenever there’s new information to include.
Educating and raising awareness
The more building owners and property managers know about asbestos management, the safer everyone on the premises will be. The HSE provides information about all aspects of asbestos management.
In terms of asbestos training, there are three main types:
- Asbestos awareness, which is best for people who won’t be working with asbestos
- Training for non-licensable work
- Training for licensable work
Asbestos training should be taken by anyone who needs asbestos competence, whether that’s as a supervisor or as a person who will be working with asbestos.
The HSE explains that taking a training course isn’t enough to make a person a skilled asbestos worker. More training, on-the-job learning, and additional instruction and assessment are needed.
In a way, everyone on the premises is responsible for asbestos management.
The duty holder has to ensure that there’s an asbestos management plan, and the property manager needs to act on behalf of the duty holder to make arrangements with asbestos contractors.
Also, everyone on the premises has to abide by the asbestos guidelines that are designed to keep them safe. That may include staying away from certain parts of the building or reporting ACMs that they notice have been damaged.
While it’s ultimately the duty holder’s responsibility to maintain a safe working environment, several parties may be involved to make that happen. When everyone involved, from the duty holder to the inspector to the contractors, complies with asbestos regulations, the workplace will be safer for everyone.
Written by Jess Scott
Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.