Not a day goes by now that we don’t hear reference to the ‘cost of living’ crisis as the UK economy hits recession with the downturn only expected to get worse going into 2023. As we all face a decrease in disposable income and heating costs increase, we turn our focus to the heating systems in many homes and the possibility of ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) being present.
We don’t wish to sound alarmist so our aim is to educate and raise awareness of the likelihood of asbestos being present in your home and arm you with some facts.
Do you live in a house pre-2000?
There is a high chance of ACMs being near boilers in pre-2000 properties due to its excellent fire retardant and insulation properties. This applies to both domestic and commercial boiler systems and they should be investigated, surveyed and managed.
Domestic heating systems
Here are a few questions we need answers to prior to any investigation: Does the boiler just need to be safe for access? Is it a case of being asbestos aware and the area made safe, or has it been disturbed and needs to be removed? Is there a risk that your kids have been slamming their toys into the boarding and there’s a strong risk it’s being regularly disturbed?
Commercial heating systems
Historically, commercial boiler rooms suffer from bad planning and questionable installation. Rather than go for a quick fix solution and try to keep costs at a minimum, we recommend Duty Holders use an asbestos expert who will conduct a thorough investigation and advise on the best asbestos management plan. We’ve known cases where asbestos has been discovered and removal required but only after several attempts has the whole area been made 100% clean as per regulations and guidance.
Further, it has been the decision of many Duty Holders to treat older plant/boiler rooms that have had wet applied insulation or similar removed in the past to manage these as suitable for normal occupancy but not for maintenance/refurb involving disturbing the area, as this would need a pre-refurbishment survey carried out, prior to any work taking place!
So what we mean is that if any maintenance work is required, a licenced asbestos specialist should work with the maintenance contractor to carry out enabling works under controlled conditions prior to any maintenance work. Shot blasting is no longer considered the way to go and you must exhaust all other options before having to justify choosing this method.
We want to draw notice to this article published on the British Occupational Hygiene Society’s website at the beginning of this month (December 2022) - ‘Managed’ asbestos in hospitals, schools and homes is a timebomb. It highlights the need for an urgent review of current asbestos management plans.
Both the BOCS, a scientific charity and the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management, the professional bodies for asbestos scientists is raising awareness after the National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC) and the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy (ATAC) published research into the presence of asbestos in homes and buildings including social housing.
The report’s findings - key facts relating to domestic properties
Timeframe - October 2021 to March 2022
78% of the 128,761 buildings inspected contained asbestos and 94,116 of those sites were domestic premises.
86% of the domestic properties contained some form of ACM and there were nearly 5 occurrences of ACM in each property (389,700 asbestos items found).
Here’s a link to the complete report via the NORAC website - NORAC and ATAC Release Review of UK Asbestos Management 2022 Report.
Jonathan Grant, NORAC Chair and Registrar FAAM
A statement from Jonathan Grant, NORAC Chair and Registrar of the professional body for Asbestos Analysts (FAAM):
“We weren’t looking for this, but when we looked at the data, the figures leapt out at us. Almost two thirds of UK sites, based on a million samples taken over six months, showed that the asbestos left in the buildings as “safe” was actually now in a damaged state.
“When asbestos is damaged, it may create a risk to occupants, releasing fibres which, if inhaled, can lead to irreversible cancer."
Professor Kevin Bampton, CEO of BOHS
An equally worrying statement comes from Professor Kevin Bampton, CEO of BOHS:
“It’s an impossible situation. Developers, social housing landlords, schools and hospitals don’t want to pay to have asbestos removed from property, but clearly the management strategies in place are not working.
“At the moment, you can leave asbestos in a part of the building and just lock the door – and that counts as management of the risk."
Current HSE involvement
The HSE is at the moment inspecting schools for the presence of asbestos but to date, there has not been any official recommendation from Parliament to extend this to social housing despite the latter being a real cause for concern.
What’s also of real interest in this article is that the BOHS - as well as advocating that NORAC and ATAC should be reporting back on the state of asbestos as part of an annual process - is calling for ‘a duty to have an asbestos survey as standard on the sale of all buildings constructed before 2000, for the proper regulation of asbestos surveyors to ensure that they are competent and for proper training of all trades liable to come into contact with asbestos in buildings, especially those involved in upgrading heating elements of buildings.’
Always refer to an asbestos expert
So the facts speak for themselves - there is a strong case for taking a proactive stance in the management of asbestos. If your home was built in the last century and you’re concerned that asbestos has been disrupted, get an expert involved who will allay your fears and guide you through the process of management.