Asbestos Awareness: Asbestos in the Home

All of us now know that asbestos is dangerous, but it’s varied use for many years means that it can be found in almost every walk of life.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was the mainstay of the construction industry and other industries, widely used as a fire-proofing material. The fibres could be mixed into cement, woven into fabric or pressed into asbestos insulating board. The versatility of asbestos led to its popularity and extensive use around the world.

What is surprising is that there may well still be asbestos in many homes across the UK. This is particularly true if the property was built or refurbished before 2000, after the supply and use of asbestos ceased in November 2000.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released a very interesting infographic which lists many areas in the home where there could be asbestos. This could be the artex on a ceiling, asbestos insulating boards (AIBs) in the walls, lagging and insulation in the loft, or asbestos floor tiles. Even cement gutters and soffits could contain asbestos.

The usual rule for non-domestic premises places a duty on the owner, or sometimes leaseholder, to take “reasonable steps” to identify possible asbestos. This may include conducting surveys and keeping records of the location of asbestos containing materials (ACMs), assess any risk and to take steps to minimise that risk. This may include removing the asbestos altogether if it is in very poor condition

So, what happens if asbestos is found in your home? Do you have a duty to manage the risk?

Well, the short answer is no. At present, there is no legislative duty for the owner or occupier of a home, to actively manage the risk of asbestos, other than a “common law” duty not to intentionally or recklessly put other people at risk of harm. However, the legislative duty applies when it is a domestic premises with perhaps shared common areas, or sheltered housing.

But what if you want to manage the asbestos in your home? If you have found asbestos in your home or you think you may have found asbestos, the current guidance is to leave it alone, however this depends on its state of repair and location. Local Councils are often helpful to turn to and may be able to assist in identifying if there is asbestos in your home.

With all of this said, it is quite rare that you will be at risk from asbestos in the home. If in doubt, seek advice from your Council or local asbestos professionals before looking to do anything yourself. The Government website also has a helpful page relating to asbestos disposal.

Asbestos is a deadly substance. According to UKATA, over 5,000 people die in the UK per year from asbestos-related illness, many of which as a result of working with asbestos.

Although asbestos may be in many homes across the UK, the risk remains relatively low as long as the materials are not damaged or in degraded condition. Although homeowners should be aware of asbestos and the possible dangers if it is inadvertently damaged or disturbed, the risk to homeowners remains relatively low. However, the only failsafe way to avoid exposure is with the proper removal of asbestos.