Insider Guide: Asbestos
In the first of our series of Insider Guides, we’re taking a look at asbestos, a material which is often mentioned but, in our experience, little understood by homeowners.
Asbestos has several benefits. It’s fire and corrosion resistant, and is excellent for thermal insulation. However, at the start of the 20th century it was discovered that the thin fibres contained within asbestos could cause cancer and lung disorders if inhaled. It is now illegal to import or use asbestos in construction, but there nevertheless remains a lot of asbestos in older buildings. Most is low risk and its presence depends on the age of the property and the date of any additions, extensions and refurbishments.
Most commonly, asbestos can be found internally in vinyl tiles and in textured wall coatings such as Artex. Cement products, including imitation slate roof tiles, rainwater systems, garage and lean-to roofs and walls, can also contain asbestos, as can partitions, under-stair ceilings, airing and boiler cupboards and bath panels. Additional areas to consider when looking for asbestos include boiler and range flues, vent grilles and gaskets, and old black toilet cisterns and seats. External applications where asbestos may be present include roofline boards and even window boxes and planters.
It’s important to remember that most asbestos in domestic properties carries a very low risk to health, as the fibres are bound together in plastic or cement. If any asbestos products are damaged or you plan to undertake alternations within the property, especially where it is suspected or confirmed that there are materials containing asbestos, it’s vital to take specialist advice. Materials containing asbestos should not be drilled, sanded or removed without protective equipment and/or specialist advice.
A building surveyor does not carry out an asbestos inspection and does not act as an asbestos inspector when inspecting properties that may fall within the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. A building surveyor only carries out a visual inspection. With flats, the surveyor assumes that there is a ‘dutyholder’ (as defined in the regulations), and that in place are an asbestos register and an effective management plan which does not present a significant risk to health or need any immediate payment. The building surveyor generally does not consult the dutyholder.
That said, if you are at all concerned, Anglian Home Surveyors can provide guidance on the level of risk posed by any asbestos which may be present. We are also able to advise on safe and legal ways in which asbestos can be removed if discovered in your home. During a building survey, just because a surveyor didn’t note or suspect that any construction materials and products used at the property contained asbestos, this does not preclude that their presence may be hidden behind other surface materials. And visual checks for potential asbestos is one of the many aspects that a member of the Anglian Home Surveyors team will undertake when carrying out a building survey.
The law requiring commercial property owners and managers to assess their buildings for the presence of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) does not apply to homeowners (although it does apply to landlords of flats who have a responsibility for the common areas).
In this sense, it is unlikely that a homeowner would be liable for the exposure to asbestos of a contractor or other visitor to their home.
However, if the householder or occupant was aware of the existence of asbestos within the property, they would have a duty of care to inform the contractor or visitor if they were likely to come into contact with the material. Failure to do so could result in some liability under common law.
If you’re at all concerned about asbestos why not call Raphael Stipic of Anglian Home Surveyors, a leading building surveyor in Cambridge, on 01223 661439?
You can also obtain further information from the Health & Safety Executive asbestos webpages.
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