By Peter Perrin.
Councillors and Council Officers have been guilty of a cavalier attitude regarding asbestos and the potential risk to the health and safety of the public.
There is a” mountain” of law and Health and Safety regulations regarding the presence of asbestos in the workplace, such as factories, shops, schools and other public buildings. However, there is no enforceable law and very little, if any, enforceable Health and Safety regulations governing the presence of asbestos materials in Council or private rented housing.
There are only guidelines which most landlords, including Councils, choose to ignore mostly on the grounds that the level of risk to health is deemed to be low and is only triggered if the asbestos material is disturbed or damaged, therefore the cost of removing or complying with safety guidelines cannot be justified.
Most of the current stock of Council rented dwellings has some asbestos or materials containing asbestos.
I find it incomprehensible that asbestos in the work place is categorised as a serious hazard to health meriting laws and enforceable regulations to protect the worker but asbestos in your home only merits unenforceable guidelines.
The Health and Safety Executive [HSE], the Government and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System [HHSRS] agree that asbestos is potentially a serious risk to health and when damaged, disturbed or otherwise interfered with becomes a category 1 hazard.
The HHSRS Guidance Notes recommends that asbestos in dwellings should be managed as follows:
Asbestos should not be present in dwellings. However, where it is, as removal is likely to result in an increase of airborne fibre levels, existing asbestos should be managed in situ, if it is:
1. in good condition;
2. not likely to be damaged; and/or
3. not likely to be worked on or disturbed.
Management of asbestos materials involves:
1. identifying the location and condition of asbestos;
2, ensuring that it is effectively sealed;
3. making it inaccessible to prevent occupiers from damaging the sealing surface;
5. keeping a record of the location of asbestos in the building.
Where existing asbestos is damaged or likely to be damaged or disturbed, an assessment needs to be made and action taken to repair, seal, enclose or remove it.”
Since 2010 I have been urging the Council to be more robust in their management of asbestos in Council dwellings and, without equivocation, to implement the HHSRS Guidance Notes, Sections 4.17 and 4.18 and as a first step to label asbestos materials with a warning so occupants are aware of the location and the risks involved should they disturb, damage or interfere with it when, for example, doing DIY improvements, repairs and decorating. I have recently received a letter from the Council stating the HHSRS is not itself a standard, implying the Council does not consider the HHSRS Guidance Notes as a standard to which it should aspire and is under no obligation to comply with any of the HHSRS recommendations. As a result of their complacency the people of Thurrock have had to fork out the sum of £50,326 in fines and court costs, if the Councillors and Council Officers were required to pay this money from their own pockets then, perhaps, they will be more careful and conscientious in future.
In conclusion I quote the Health and Safety Executive:
“Not for nothing is asbestos called the hidden killer – large amounts of it were once used in new and refurbished buildings and often in places where you can’t easily see it. A lot of premises still contain some form of asbestos and the danger is still there if you are unprepared – especially if you are in construction, maintenance, refurbishment and similar work. When asbestos materials are damaged or disturbed they can release dangerous fibres which can cause serious illness if breathed in.”