This is a question that we are regularly asked by confused property developers, builders, tradespeople, and new business owners: ‘Am I exempt from asbestos regulations because … I am developing / renovating a property (built pre-1999) for sale or rent? Or when opening a business in an existing property? Or working in someone’s home?’
Well, the answer is a straightforward one.
No, you are not exempt!!!
As a property developer, builder, tradesperson, shopfitter, or new business owner, your activity is classed as a business / place of work and therefore any employees or contractors that you appoint to work on a property must be kept safe and not exposed to asbestos.
Do property developers, tradespeople, and new business owners need an asbestos survey?
Well, if the property was built before 1999 then there is a possibility of asbestos being present in various materials contained within the property. So, yes, a survey should be in place specific to the planned works prior to any site works commencing. In addition to the general responsibility to prevent anyone from being exposed to such asbestos, there are additional responsibilities related to refurbishment. If any refurbishment work is to be done, then you must have an asbestos refurbishment survey to demonstrate that the relevant areas of the property are safe and no asbestos is to be disturbed before the contractor or employees begin work there. This prevents exposure to asbestos fibres not only for the people undertaking the works but also potentially the public and immediate family.
You may not be compliant based on a previous survey, as you cannot undertake refurbishment works on the back of an asbestos management plan register or asbestos management survey (it does occur). The survey may not have been intrusive and the scope of the survey may not cover the works area in its entirety or at all. It is therefore null and void and of no use whatsoever. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear of people showering themselves in asbestos debris, exposing themselves and others to asbestos fibre.
What if someone else funds the project?
There are no reasons for a commercial property to be exempt from asbestos safety regulations. None of the following makes any difference:
- It doesn’t matter who funds it.
- It doesn’t matter what kind of commercial premises it is. If you have staff, contractors, and / or the public in it then it has to be safe.
- You can’t get around your responsibilities due to having another Duty Holder (that is the person who is legally responsible). With asbestos regulations, it is easily possible to have multiple Duty Holders (the owner, the management organisation, the business occupier, and the builder / tradesperson / shopfitter and / or their buisness) and all can be prosecuted if there is any exposure of workers or the public to asbestos due to their actions.
What else should property developers do?
If you are developing property or have a property or portfolio of properties as part of your business, regardless of the kind of business, we would suggest that you take the time to understand your asbestos responsibilities as stated in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Regulation 4, Duty to Manage.
It is of course important that you follow any advice that you are given by competent people. As with anything, you can’t hire an expert and then tell them how to do their job.
Consequences for your business if asbestos risks are not managed
Let’s be open about this – there will always be some people who try to get around any rules. We would suggest that this is a risk that is not worth taking.
Not only do you risk prosecution (as a company and personally) but there are other financial consequences and health risks. If you have to make a RIDDOR report (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) then this potentially a route to prosecution and reputational damage.
Ignorance is unlikely to be bliss. If you find asbestos late in a project, it will cost you significant time and money. Firstly, all work in the affected area will have to stop, immediately. The asbestos product may be ‘notifiable’ to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and you will have to follow the timetable of official notification, survey, appointing specialist contractors and analysts, and then verifying that the property is safe again.
All of this could mean delayed opening of a business, delayed revenue, or a period without revenue. All of these can be catastrophic for a business. The better option? Get to know what your risks are straight away and factor them into the project and manage them.
Services for Property Developers, Quantity Surveyors, and Architects
If you are a property developer, then we can give you the full picture of a property and its potential risks in relation to asbestos by undertaking a focused asbestos refurbishment / demolition survey for legal compliance where any works are planned. This is mainly for the protection of workers and contractors. At Environmental Inspection, we give clear, concise advice on what you need and when. If asbestos is identified, we’ll tell you what is required to manage it, both now and in the long term. This means considering removal, remediation, or engineering around it to avoid disturbance.
Services for facilities managers, project managers, and in-house property professionals
We can assist you to deliver on your responsibilities, meet your organisation’s compliance obligations, and upskill your team in managing asbestos risks. Most often, this involves asbestos surveys (Management, Refurbishment / Demolition), asbestos management plans, and asbestos awareness training.
Environmental Inspection can advise on the specific obligations in particular circumstances, and use our full range of asbestos expertise and experience across the lifecycle of projects to advise on all aspects of asbestos and related risk management.