My colleague Holly and I were interested to read about the recent pause to renovation work at the Houses of Parliament after dozens of workers were potentially exposed to asbestos. Asbestos exposure can cause serious diseases: including mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening.
Concerns about the widespread presence of asbestos-containing materials in parliamentary buildings have been raised previously; with recommendations made to relocate staff whilst the asbestos was removed. However, the House of Commons Commission wished to explore options to remain in the parliamentary buildings whilst the necessary renovations took place. Issues with the renovation process have now led to the potential asbestos exposure.
This story should serve as a reminder for those with responsibilities for non-domestic premises of their duties to manage asbestos. Under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, owners of non-domestic premises or those with a clear responsibility for non-domestic premises have a duty to manage asbestos.
- Taking reasonable steps to ascertain if there are asbestos-containing materials in the non-domestic premises; including the amount, location and condition it is in.
- Operating on the presumption that materials contain asbestos unless strong evidence is obtained that they do not.
- Creating and updating a record of the condition and location of asbestos-containing materials and materials presumed to contain asbestos.
- Conducting risk assessments of the risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials.
- Preparing a detailed plan for how the risks from the materials will be managed.
- Putting the plan into action.
- Regularly monitoring and reviewing the plan.
- Informing anybody who is likely to disturb or work on the materials with information of their condition and location.
Asbestos obligations are often overlooked but the consequences of exposure are serious and sometimes fatal.
Whilst asbestos is no longer used in building materials and is more prevalent in older buildings, all duty holders of non-domestic premises must be aware of their duty to manage asbestos. Non-domestic premises covers all industrial, commercial and public buildings, so includes offices, schools, shops, churches and hospitals.
Housing providers should note that non-domestic premises can also include the common areas of domestic premises such as foyers, corridors, lifts, staircases, roof spaces and garages. Learning from the parliamentary renovations, duty holders should ensure that they are complying with their duty to manage asbestos.
A House of Commons spokesperson said: “The House is currently working with our contractors, supply chain and the Health and Safety Executive following an incident of possible asbestos exposure on the estate. A temporary pause in construction projects was implemented to ensure lessons learned from this incident are rapidly implemented.”