Asbestos in commercial premises remains the biggest health hazard in the British workplace, compromising lives, families, the commercial sector, and the economy. Currently, over 400 people die each year from asbestos-related illnesses, and 25% of those had previous employment in the building and maintenance sector where unwitting exposure to Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) was likely.
The final amendment of the Government’s Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) was put in place in 2012. If you’re concerned about ACMs in your commercial premises, here’s what you need to know.
If you have any control over people accessing your commercial premises or have contracted others to work on your property, you are legally obliged to search for ACMs. If found, their location and condition must be determined, regularly monitored, and up-to-date records maintained.
Wondering Whether You Have ACMs?
If you’re unsure whether you have ACMs on your property, you’re legally required to presume you have until the situation has been properly assessed. Asbestos kills too many people to leave any shadow of doubt.
Act Fast to Make an Assessment
As soon as you think you have ACMs you are required to act without delay. Building plans, the age of the building, and other relevant information must be provided, and a professional inspection made of all parts of the building that can be accessed. You also need to assess the risk of anybody being exposed to ACMs. All of this information, including any notes regarding the assessment must be recorded.
Design a Risk Management Plan
As well as up-to-date records of the location and condition of ACMs, you’ll need to prepare a written risk management plan. This plan should detail how you intend to monitor the ACMs, the measures you’ll take to minimise the risk of exposure, and steps for maintenance or safe, professional removal. It’s vital this plan is made available to emergency services, as well as any person who could potentially disturb or come in contact with ACMs. Note that this plan must be reviewed regularly. It also must be revised if deemed invalid or when changes are made to the premises.
When to Call the Professionals
Asbestos is extremely hazardous and you should never endeavour to remove it yourself. If removal or demolition is required, it must be done by professionals, and extreme care taken to not expose employees or contractors to asbestos. All assessment and risk management plans must be thoroughly undertaken before a decision is reached as to how and when asbestos will be removed.
The HSE’s Enforcement Approach
In May 2004, the HSE overhauled its enforcement procedures around ACMs. However, the HSE considers that the size, number and complexity of a duty-holder’s commercial premises may have been prohibitive to undertaking in-depth inspection and assessment prior to this overhaul. Bear in mind that HSE inspectors will want to make sure immediate risks have been identified and dealt with. They’ll also insist on reviewing your strategy for complying with the CAR, including timetables detailing your steps toward full compliance.
Issuing Improvement Notices
Given the health risks inherent in exposure to ACMs, the HSE and Local Authorities treat breaches of the CAR very seriously. If the HSE believes you have been purposefully negligent in your legal duties toward the CAR, improvement notices may be issued. These will give you time to move toward full compliance.
If the matter does progress toward prosecution, the duty-holders premises will be professionally inspected and physical, witness, and expert evidence gathered. A report will then be compiled, based on analysis and tests of potential ACMs. The final step of this procedure typically results in a court hearing, which may lead to a fine or imprisonment.
The CAR outlines very simple steps in the identification, assessment, and risk management of ACMs, and the life-threatening risk of non-compliance means penalties can be severe. Taking a few simple steps now will save you a lot of trouble down the road.
For more information about the asbestos surveys and consultancy we undertake at MDHS, get in touch today. Call 0800 011 2962 or contact us online.