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The hidden horror: why you need to know if asbestos is in your building

PUBLISHED: 12:44 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:52 28 September 2018

Asbestos remains a real concern, says 
Dan Evans, partner at Cozens-Hardy

Despite being banned in late 1999, asbestos is still a problem for property owners and tenants alike.

Asbestos was historically used in the construction of buildings for over 200 years, particularly due to its fire resistant qualities. In the 1970s research emerged revealing asbestos as a health hazard and over the next 20 years it was generally phased out and then ultimately banned. A large number of buildings still contain asbestos-containing materials and as such it is as relevant an issue today as it has ever been.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 are the current regulations that deal with asbestos in commercial buildings. It puts obligations on a ‘Duty Holder’, in essence the person responsible for maintenance of the building, to identify whether or not a building contains asbestos and then to manage the same.

The first duty is to ascertain whether or not the building contains asbestos, which is achieved by undertaking an Asbestos Survey. This should be carried out be a qualified surveyor, who may take samples for laboratory testing. The results will dictate whether any additional steps are required.

Should asbestos be revealed, the Survey will give recommendations on what action is to be taken. Not all asbestos needs to be removed, but can instead by managed in situ. That being said, some asbestos will need immediate action, such as sealing up or removal.

If you are looking to buy or rent commercial property it is imperative that you are given a copy of the survey by the seller/landlord so that you can decide what risks there are. Best practice is to have a survey regardless of the age of a building, albeit the risks are far greater for a building built pre-2000.

As a practical example, we recently dealt with a matter where the building owner was absolutely insistent that asbestos was not in a building due to it being constructed in the 1990s. On our instructions the client insisted on a report, which has now revealed four separate areas of asbestos in the building.

Failure to comply with the Asbestos Regulations is a criminal offence with penalties up to two years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

If you have a commercial building or are looking to acquire one then you should take your responsibilities very seriously.

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