What are the issues and risks when removing asbestos from care homes?
Care homes are vital forms of accommodation for some of the most vulnerable members of our societies. Despite this, care home buildings that were constructed prior to the year 2000 can often contain the lethal, naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos, due to this material having been widely used in the construction sector before it was banned in the UK towards the end of 1999.
The breathing-in or ingestion of asbestos can lead to any of a number of serious, and potentially fatal, health conditions over time. Fortunately, in the UK of today, there are stringent regulations in place to help guard against the health risks asbestos can still pose in buildings such as care homes.
However, the existence of such legislation is not enough, on its own, to shield the users of care homes – including not only residents, but also staff and visitors to such premises – from harm.
So, in this article, we will take a closer look at the issues and risks that those responsible for care homes need to be aware of, when it comes to the management and removal of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from such sites.
- 1 Understanding asbestos in care homes
- 2 Risks and challenges in asbestos removal from care homes
- 3 How to manage asbestos in UK care homes
- 4 Don’t hesitate to seek advice and help from our asbestos experts
Understanding asbestos in care homes
During the period of peak use of asbestos in UK construction projects – from around the 1950s until the mid-1980s – the material was used in a wide range of products, due to such perceived advantages as its physical strength, fire resistance, and relative affordability and availability.
As a consequence of this, to this day, asbestos remains present in such parts of buildings as their insulation, ceiling tiles, pipes, and flooring. The substance can even be found in the likes of roofing tiles, wall panels, ventilation ducts, and storage heaters – again, all in products dating from the time when asbestos was legal to use in the UK.
There is no such thing as a “safe” form of asbestos, and there is certainly no such thing as a building in which there is no need to manage any asbestos that may be present.
However, with care home residents being among the most vulnerable people in the UK, there is likely to be even greater reason for concern if dutyholders for a care home are not fulfilling their responsibilities to help keep residents and users of their buildings safe.
Asbestos is not thought to pose a risk to health if it is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed. For these reasons, if you do discover suspected or confirmed ACMs in your care home building, you will not necessarily need to arrange for their immediate removal; in many cases, such materials can be left in place, and actively managed and monitored over time.
Nonetheless, no one who is responsible for a care home premises – and the safety of everyone using such buildings – should underestimate the need to comply with their moral and legal responsibilities with regard to asbestos.
Risks and challenges in asbestos removal from care homes
If you do make the decision to have any detected asbestos removed from a care home for which you are responsible, you will need to be aware in advance of various potential issues, complications, and risks.
These include the below:
The vulnerability of residents and staff
During the asbestos removal process, there can be a risk of asbestos fibres being released into the air. Such fibres cannot be seen with the naked eye, which could make it even likelier that any released fibres are subsequently inhaled or ingested by care home residents or staff.
Anyone who is subject to prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres can be at risk of serious health conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Care home residents – particularly the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions – may be even more vulnerable to the adverse effects of asbestos exposure. So, it is crucial to take every possible measure to prevent the uncontrolled release of asbestos fibres.
The risk of fibre release and contamination
To build further on what we said above about the possible release of asbestos fibres, it is important to appreciate that if this does occur – for example, as a result of asbestos being improperly handled during removal – the fibres could then find their way onto surfaces, furnishings, and ventilation systems.
This means that even if someone nearby does not breathe in the released fibres immediately, there could be an ongoing risk to staff, residents, and anyone else present in the care home, as a result of such broader contamination.
So, before any asbestos removal work takes place, you should ensure steps are taken to implement stringent containment measures to guard against this risk. Combined with proper disposal protocols and decontamination procedures, such measures will be instrumental in preventing the release of fibres and subsequent contamination.
Infection control considerations
In care homes, there is a need to balance asbestos removal operations with infection control measures. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolation barriers are likely to be required for asbestos removal, with careful management required in order to avoid compromising infection control protocols.
It is essential that proper coordination takes place between asbestos removal contractors and staff at the given care home, to help ensure residents continue to benefit from the safest and most hygienic possible environment.
Disruption to daily care and operations
With care homes being active care environments, projects to remove asbestos from such buildings can disrupt the daily routines of residents, and the care services that they depend on. While there may be an unavoidable need to evacuate certain parts of the building or to temporarily relocate residents in order to ensure their safety, this can cause inconvenience and stress.
So, if you are looking to have ACMs removed from a care home for which you are responsible, you should be mindful of the potential for care services to be interrupted, and the knock-on impact this can have on the wellbeing and comfort of residents.
Although certain disruptions may seem unavoidable, careful planning and coordination of the arrangements around asbestos removal work can help to minimise them.
The psychological impact on residents
Some care home residents may be anxious and distressed if they are aware that asbestos is present and the associated asbestos removal activities are taking place nearby.
Not only the disruption to their living environment that may be necessitated by asbestos removal operations, but also the perception of potential health risks – whether or not there is actual risk presented to residents’ health – can have psychological implications.
So, if you are coordinating the removal of asbestos from a care home for which you are responsible, it is crucial that you provide clear and transparent communication about this to residents and their families. You should make yourself available to address any concerns that anyone has, and to provide reassurance about the safety of residents, including to their loved ones.
As we touched on above, strict regulations are now in place in relation to how asbestos is managed in buildings up and down the UK, such as care homes. Today, care homes are legally obliged to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) and other applicable regulations and guidelines.
If you are a dutyholder for a care home and when arranging the removal of asbestos from the premises, you fail to adhere to the requirements laid out in regulations such as CAR 2012, you could be subject to legal consequences, such as penalties and fines.
Specialist expertise and training
One of the most important things to ensure when coordinating the removal of asbestos from a care home building for which you are responsible, is that you only hire asbestos removal contractors who are suitably licensed and competent for this highly specialised work.
By doing your research into asbestos removal companies and contractors, and ensuring they follow all the procedures necessary in order to meet regulatory standards, you can protect yourself from a legal standpoint, in addition to protecting the health of care home residents and other users of the premises.
A particularly good piece of advice here, is to hire an asbestos removal contractor or company that has specific experience in the removal of asbestos from care home environments. Such asbestos removal specialists will be well-placed to guard against every possible risk during this sensitive process, which will help give you the utmost peace of mind.
How to manage asbestos in UK care homes
Below are the essential steps involved in the management of asbestos in care homes in the UK:
- The creation of an asbestos risk register, which will need to be regularly updated and provided to contractors or maintenance staff who are set to carry out planned works
- The implementation of an asbestos management plan
- The provision of asbestos awareness training to workers who are likely to come across the material over the course of their normal working day
- The use of appropriate asbestos surveys and testing before works are carried out, to establish whether asbestos is present and whether it could present a risk to health
- Efforts to ensure good communication with staff, stakeholders, residents, and families.
Don’t hesitate to seek advice and help from our asbestos experts
As we have hopefully made clear in this guide, there is much that dutyholders for care homes will need to be aware of when they are seeking to have asbestos safely removed from their buildings.
These include the need to comply with all relevant legislation designed to control and minimise asbestos risks. They also include a need to reduce any disruption to care services, and anxiety among residents and their loved ones, to the greatest degree possible.
In particular, we would urge you to only ever engage suitably qualified and experienced asbestos removal specialists when you are seeking to have this dangerous material removed from a care home setting.
The great news is that through the use of comprehensive asbestos management and removal practices, you can minimise and eliminate any risks arising from the presence of this potentially lethal material, thereby helping to ensure the absolute safety of residents and staff.
Would you like to have a more in-depth discussion with our team at Oracle Solutions about how we can assist you in your efforts to manage and/or remove asbestos from your care home buildings? If so, you are very welcome to call us a call, or contact us online and request your competitive asbestos quote.
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.