There have been a few high-profile cases in recent years where hotel owners have been handed some quite hefty fines for not satisfactorily handling asbestos in their buildings. In 2013, for example, Brittania Hotels received a fine of £160,000 for the mishandling of their asbestos management during a refurbishment in one hotel in the chain. Failing in their duty to manage the process correctly potentially released asbestos dust into public areas, and the courts took a very dim view of this.
If you are responsible for a hotel or pub in the UK, then someone will be responsible for ensuring that any asbestos on the premises is managed effectively. There is a very good reason for this. Asbestos is a Class 1 carcinogen, which means that it is known to cause cancer and rated as having the highest possible risk. The reason it is so dangerous is that, when disturbed, it can release a cloud of fibres that can then lodge in the lining of the lungs and interfere with their natural cleaning process. These fibres remain in the lungs and gradually cause a series of pulmonary diseases.
Asbestos is now banned, but it may have been used extensively in the construction of premises built before 2000. This is particularly true of the period between 1950 and the end of the century. Some forms of it are more likely to release fibres than others, and many of these, such as pipe lagging and acoustic tiles, are very common in public houses and hotels.
The current legislation that covers the measures needed to deal with asbestos is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), and it states that for public places there is a clear responsibility for someone to manage any asbestos or Asbestos Containing Material on the premises. For the landlords and managers, it is important that you know who that is. The duty to manage may be local, a designated and trained staff member on site, or subject to a company wide policy. For an individual hotel, public house, restaurant and similar, it is most likely to be the owner. Tenant managers should check their contract to confirm who is responsible.
There are very clear guidelines on what the duty to manage means and, in a nutshell, whoever is responsible must:
- Take reasonable steps to find if asbestos is present
- Presume that any materials that may contain asbestos do contain it until proven safe
- Keep up-to-date records of asbestos and potential asbestos
- Assess the risk of exposure
- Plan how to manage these risks
- Take steps to put the plan in place
- Review and monitor the plan
- Make sure the location and condition of materials that may contain asbestos is made available to anyone who may need it
What this will usually mean is a combination of risk assessments, management plans and asbestos surveys that detail the what, where, the condition, and the plan to manage asbestos on site.
A good starting point if you have the duty to manage is to take an Asbestos Awareness course. They cost very little and will give you the basic information you need to identify Asbestos Containing Materials and what to do about them. Asbestos is only dangerous if it is released, and, so as long as the materials containing it are not disturbed or damaged, it is often best to leave it in situ and monitor its condition regularly. However, if the materials are damaged and there is a potential asbestos leak then you will need specialist help to resolve the problem.
Asbestos is dangerous and often requires specialist attention to remove or make it safe. If you have a duty to manage then you are required to ensure this happens. Safety and management starts with awareness of the potential for asbestos in your premises, and this is vital, because if you don’t meet your duty to manage you could be facing a hefty fine.