In 2006 over 4000 people died as a result of past asbestos exposure in the UK. It is estimated that over fifty percent of these deaths occurred as a result of exposure from within the construction industry many developing the disease as a result of installing asbestos in buildings including housing in the 1950s and 1960s. Recent research has suggested that an additional twenty five percent of these deaths have occurred as a result of “domestic exposure”, by this they mean individuals have been exposed as a result of asbestos being bought into the home by a partner who has been working with asbestos. This still however leaves up to 1000 people whose source of exposure cannot be confirmed.
Latest research has confirmed that we are still likely to be witnessing significant levels of asbestos related deaths up until 2050.
Over the years the Health and Safety Executive have introduced ever increasing controls on asbestos this culminating in the 2006 Control of Asbestos Regulations. The Social Housing sector is placed in a difficult position as far as the regulations are concerned with specific requirements existing for the managements of asbestos in the common areas of blocks, and little clear guidance existing for dwellings. One of the defining drivers within the guidance to the regulations is to look at contracts and how these apply.
If we consider sheltered accommodation, how do the regulations apply here? If we consider a general needs block with common rooms, sharing lounges etc then the regulations will apply to the common areas of the block. However, if we change the level of dependency and introduce a warden or staff whose role is to regularly visit tenants within the dwellings then it could be argued that all of the property is within scope of the regulations.
In addition to the requirements under the duty to manage element of CAR 2006, specific requirements exist to ensure that all persons at the risk of disturbing asbestos have asbestos awareness training. One of the questions for those managing social housing is how do you ensure that your contractors have had this training and are not going to disturb asbestos within your properties. Do you advise them where the asbestos is? Do you tell them to be vigilant for asbestos? Or do you require them to prove that the staff they are sending into your premises are asbestos aware? All valid approaches but which is right?
The challenge in the housing sector is how do you do this if a/ you don’t know where the material is b/ you do know, but haven’t told your tenants. Regrettably both these situations are common and both have the potential to lead to asbestos exposure. The Health and Safety Executive are currently in the final stages of revising the Guidance on performing asbestos surveys and within this document is for the first time clear guidance for identifying asbestos within the social / rented housing sector.
In summary the guidance is that you should:
1/ Identify archetypes or beacons based upon property design and construction
2/ Survey sufficient archetypes to ensure you have identified all asbestos within the beacon
3/ Once you have done this, inspect all other properties within the archetype group to ensure the asbestos is in good condition.
A sizable exercise for any housing association, local authority or landlord.
But what do you do with the data? How do you manage it? Importantly, who do you tell and how? The issue of advising tenants sends fear into many organisations, but simple statements in your tenant’s pledges requirement such as “duty of care” or “providing a safe environment” will mean that this issue can no longer be fudged.
The UK currently has the world’s highest levels of Mesothelioma partly as a result of the policies of the past and partly due to our widespread use of the material. The question you may ask from this is how will this impact upon me in the social housing sector. In simple terms, many of the properties built as part of the post war reconstruction and the 1960 baby boom were built with asbestos of varying types and risk, the pattern of usage being similar to schools. The management of asbestos within schools is the subject of much debate and indeed criticism and it will not take too long before this debate focuses upon the housing sector.
In recent weeks we have seen a 17 year old being diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Her source of exposure is yet to be determined. Obviously an employer will not be involved but the suggestion is that the exposure will have come from either school or in the home.
This will be a difficult case to defend, but when such a cases arises in the housing sector will you be able to defend your actions and approach?
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