Discovering asbestos in your home is still a very real possibility nearly thirty years after the first ban was introduced. We regularly receive enquiries from both anxious tenants and concerned householders over a ceiling, wall or floor surface containing asbestos materials, which is always a real possibility if the building is known to have been built or renovated before the 1980s or 90s.

Despite advances in asbestos awareness and the procedures needed to identify, isolate and dispose of the harmful material, it is still of concern that responsible authorities, duty holders and even many building contractors fail to deal properly with the potential presence of asbestos. Cases are regularly heard in court where contractors appear to either ignore the regulations or fail to act on information provided indicating that asbestos has been previously identified.

At WESolicitors, enquiries are not infrequently made by tenants who strongly suspect the presence of asbestos but find the response from their landlord, housing association or property owner is unsatisfactory.

Ignoring suspected asbestos

As with large scale renovations to housing estates, for example, a building contractor may simply proceed with removing building materials without a prior asbestos survey, breaking up and transferring waste to standard skips. When a rudimentary investigation is carried out and asbestos found, there may be either a delay before any further action is taken or simply a denial there is a risk hazard. The reality is that any material suspected to be asbestos whether whole or intact, is liable to release invisible fibre dust particles, which remain airborne for weeks or even months at a time and can be easily inhaled.

It can also be difficult to distinguish asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from modern asbestos-free materials, especially in properties around 20 to 30 years old. However, it should be remembered that white asbestos imports were not banned until 1999 because the fibres were considered low risk compared to the more toxic fibre types of blue and brown asbestos. Today, all asbestos is considered a Class 1 carcinogenic and is, therefore, potentially dangerous.

When asbestos is identified

When asbestos is identified the HSE stipulates very clear duties under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act), which is intended to protect householders from any risks from work activities being carried out in their homes.

Where the work involves asbestos-containing materials then the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 will also apply, in particular:

  • Regulation 11 (Prevention or reduction of exposure to asbestos)
  • Regulation 15 (Arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies)
  • Regulation 16 (Duty to prevent or reduce the spread of asbestos)

Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) was the most commonly used building material for constructing partition walls, fireproofing panels in fire doors, ceiling tiles, soffits and panels below windows. Loose fill asbestos was also typically applied in between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces. Asbestos corrugated sheeting was also a popular method for covering roofs in many house extensions and garages.

Even asbestos containing floor tiles where the fibres were originally bonded together and encapsulated can still be health risk if there is any sign of wear, damage or moisture.

Indirect exposure at home

Recent studies have found that while the majority of mesothelioma or other asbestosis diseases were caused by exposure in occupations and workplaces known to use asbestos materials, there was also a significant number whose asbestos exposure indirectly occurred at home, school, hospital, office or another premises where asbestos containing materials were still hidden.

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), as many as a half of UK households could still have asbestos hidden within the fabric of the building. HSE also report that more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed each year.