Managing Asbestos in Commercial Bulidings

Laura Mather  26-04-2024

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently prosecuted a development company and its directors for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Cavendish Winchester Ltd, (and directors Stephen Davies and Neil Bolton), removed around ten tonnes of asbestos insulating board during the conversion of a commercial unit into student accommodation. Rather than using a licenced asbestos removal company, in order to save money the directors used unqualified people,  exposing workers to significant risk to their health. The HSE reports that: “the investigation was unable to determine where a very sizeable quantity of asbestos-contaminated debris ended up, such that others in the waste removal chain were likely to have been put at risk too".

Stephen Davies received an immediate custodial sentence of 8 months, suspended for 12 months. Neil Bolton was ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and pay costs. The Cavendish Winchester Ltd was fined £30,000.


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a building material used in many industries and buildings until it was banned in 1999. It is made of tiny, invisible fibres, which can be breathed in, posing a serious risk to health. 


How to deal with asbestos in buildings

You have a legal duty to manage any asbestos in your building and to protect people from exposure to it. This applies to non-domestic premises such as factories or shops and common parts of multi-occupancy domestic premises, such as purpose-built flats.

If you are the owner or landlord of a commercial building, you must find out if asbestos is present in the property by arranging an asbestos survey. If asbestos is found, you must then:

  • assess the risk of anyone being exposed to the asbestos;
  • keep an asbestos register, recording the location, type and condition of the asbestos;
  • plan how to manage the risks associated with the asbestos, and regularly reviewed the plan; and
  • give this information to anyone who might work on or disturb the asbestos.


Does asbestos have to be removed?

No, it does not, provided occupiers, workers or visitors to a property will not be exposed to it, it should be enough to identify and ensure that the asbestos is monitored. 

However, as can be seen by the recent prosecution, where works are carried out to a property that result in exposure of asbestos containing materials, the asbestos may need to be removed. If this is the case, the removal must be carried out by a licenced removal firm to ensure any possible exposure is managed effectively.


Selling or buying asbestos affected property

Buyers will want to ensure that they have investigated the possible presence of asbestos in a property, particularly  if they intend to carry out refurbishment work. The initial source of this information will be from the seller, who should have an asbestos management plan in place. 

If a seller cannot provide the required information, the parties will need to negotiate as to who is going to arrange and cover the cost of an asbestos survey. A seller may be prepared to pay for a management survey if no works are intended for the property, but may require a buyer to cover the cost otherwise.

Ensuring that proper due diligence in relation to asbestos is carried out at an early stage of a transaction will help buyers calculate any costs of asbestos removal. As can be seen by the recent prosecution, cutting corners can be more costly in the long run. Buyers may be able to negotiate on the purchase price, and should ensure they comply with asbestos regulations once they complete on their purchase.

If you are buying or selling a property that contains asbestos, you should speak to an expert conveyancing solicitor at as early a stage of the process as possible. At Samuels Solicitors, we have a wealth of experience in assisting buyers and sellers of commercial property, which might be affected in this way. 

Contact one of our team today to find out how we can help. 

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