Asbestos, once a common building material, now poses a serious health risk, particularly through the inhalation of its fibres.
In the UK, the impact of asbestos-related diseases is substantial, with 2,268 mesothelioma deaths, a similar number from lung cancer, and 537 from asbestosis recorded in 2021. These figures highlight the ongoing public health concerns associated with asbestos.
In response, the UK has implemented strict regulations, banning Blue (Crocidolite) and Brown (Amosite) asbestos in 1985 and White asbestos (Chrysotile) in 1999.
This legislative action reflects the importance of regular property inspections and the need for comprehensive asbestos management by homeowners, landlords, and commercial property owners.
Health Risks Associated with Asbestos in Homes
The health risks associated with asbestos are primarily due to the inhalation of its tiny fibres, which can occur when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or deteriorate.
Asbestosis, a chronic lung disease, is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres, leading to lung tissue scarring. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath, persistent cough, and in severe cases, heart enlargement. It’s a progressive disease with no effective cure and often leads to disability and an increased risk of lung cancer.
2. Lung Cancer
Asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of lung cancer, especially among smokers. The latency period between exposure and onset can be decades long. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, and weight loss, but they often appear only in advanced stages.
Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, primarily affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) but can also occur in the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart. It’s almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure and has a poor prognosis. Symptoms of mesothelioma, which typically appear late in the disease’s development, include chest pain, shortness of breath, and fluid accumulation around the lungs.
4. Pleural Thickening and Effusions
Exposure to asbestos can lead to thickening of the pleura and pleural effusions (fluid accumulation). These conditions can cause breathlessness and chest discomfort.
Importance of Asbestos Inspection in Rental Properties
Regular asbestos inspections in rental properties are not just a legal mandate in many regions but a moral obligation for property owners.
These inspections, ideally conducted by certified professionals, are crucial in identifying the presence of asbestos and assessing its condition. Early detection can prevent potential health hazards and legal complications down the line.
What Should Landlords and Commercial Home Owners Do About Asbestos
Landlords and commercial property owners have specific responsibilities when it comes to managing asbestos in their properties. Here’s what they should do:
1. Conduct Regular Asbestos Inspections
Especially in older buildings, have the property inspected regularly by a certified asbestos inspector to identify any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
2. Perform Risk Assessments
If ACMs are found, assess the risk they pose. Determine if the asbestos is friable (easily crumbled) or non-friable and the likelihood of fibres being released into the air.
3. Develop an Asbestos Management Plan
For properties containing non-friable asbestos that are in good condition, create a management plan outlining how you will monitor and manage the ACMs to prevent disturbance and exposure.
4. Professional Removal or Encapsulation
If asbestos is found to be a hazard, hire licensed professionals to either safely remove it or encapsulate it (a process that involves covering the asbestos to prevent fibre release).
5. Adhere to Legal and Safety Regulations
Familiarise yourself with and adhere to all local, state, and federal asbestos regulations. This includes laws about inspections, removal, and necessary disclosures to tenants and employees. Commercial property owners must follow the government’s guidelines to ensure they meet all legal requirements.
6. Notify Tenants and Employees
Legally, you’re often required to inform tenants and employees about the presence of asbestos. Provide clear information about the risks and the measures being taken to manage those risks.
7. Maintain Documentation
Keep detailed records of all asbestos inspections, risk assessments, remediation efforts, and communications with tenants and employees. This documentation is crucial for legal compliance and potential future liability issues.
8. Monitor and Reassess Regularly
Continuously monitor the condition of ACMs and reassess risks periodically. Asbestos risks can change over time, especially if the building undergoes renovations or suffers damage.
9. Plan Financially
Budget for the costs associated with asbestos management, including inspections, removal, encapsulation, and potential legal liabilities.
10. Stay Updated on Asbestos Regulations
Regulations and guidelines regarding asbestos management can change. Stay informed about the latest requirements to ensure ongoing compliance.
11. Handle Tenant Relocations if Necessary
In cases where asbestos removal is required, manage the relocation of tenants responsibly and in accordance with local laws and regulations.
Managing asbestos in rental properties is a complex but essential task. It requires a thorough understanding of asbestos, its health risks, and the legal landscape surrounding its management.
Regular inspections, professional removal or encapsulation, and adherence to safety standards are not just regulatory requirements but are critical for the health and safety of tenants and the long-term viability of the property.
By staying informed and proactive, property owners can effectively navigate the challenges posed by asbestos and ensure a safe living environment for their tenants.