New Report Reveals True Asbestos Risks in Homes

1 June 2009

Asbestos removal. BSIP, BOUCHARLAT SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYA new academic report has uncovered huge deficiencies in the rules covering the management of asbestos in people’s homes, potentially exposing both residents and maintenance workers to asbestos exposure.

Householders undertaking standard DIY functions are at particular risk of unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos. This is due to a combination of ignorance and a lack of readily accessible information and advice.

Legislation flaws

The report As Safe as Houses? by IDS researcher Dr Linda Waldman and Heather Williams, will be formally launched in Parliament on 2 June 2009. It examines how asbestos is managed and removed in social housing but also uncovers major flaws in legislation concerning properties containing asbestos in the private sector.

Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: “Everyone has a right to feel safe in their own homes…thousands of householders’ health is being put at risk because they do not know that asbestos is present in their home.”

The report reveals that there are major differences in how individual local authorities and registered social landlords (RSLs) notify tenants about whether properties contain asbestos and the likely risk of exposure.

The report recommends that all social landlords should have a duty to manage asbestos in the internal part of properties; currently there is only a duty to manage asbestos in communal areas such as stairwells.

An asbestos register for all properties

Social landlords should also be required by law to maintain an asbestos register for all properties. A register should contain: whether a property has been surveyed, whether asbestos has been found in a property or similar properties, whether the asbestos has been removed or damaged, whether asbestos has been professionally removed and official confirmation of removal. There should be a mandatory asbestos survey for all houses, which is kept up to date.

The report reveals that there is no legal requirement to disclose the presence of asbestos when selling a private property. Housing Information Packs and most surveys do not contain information on whether there is asbestos present in a property. Currently only an expensive full structural survey would provide such information. The report recommends that mandatory asbestos surveying should be introduced prior to all private housing sales.

Linda Waldman, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and the joint author of the report said: “People aren’t aware of the dangers of asbestos and don’t know where it is in their homes. This lack of awareness leads to asbestos exposure and increased risk. Social landlords hold much of this information, as they are required to provide asbestos surveys for housing. If they had a duty to inform residents, these risks would be reduced.”

Increased asbestos training, awareness and guidance

The report also recommends that extra measures are urgently needed to ensure that construction and maintenance workers are aware of where asbestos can be found, the difficulty in identifying it and potential warning signs, and what to do if it’s discovered.

The report calls for all power tools to carry warnings to remind workers of the potential dangers of asbestos. Increased asbestos training, awareness and guidance should be given to all local authority staff and resident association representatives. The content of apprenticeship training courses for construction workers should be revised to contain modules on asbestos risks and protection procedures.

Over 2,000 people in Britain die from mesothelioma (the incurable cancer of the lung caused by inhaling asbestos) every year. Britain has the highest rate of mesothelioma death in the world and death rates are not expected to peak for another decade.

Following exposure to asbestos it usually takes at least 20 years for mesothelioma, or other asbestos diseases to develop. Construction workers, especially those responsible for undertaking maintenance work, are now at greatest risk of developing the disease.

The report was commissioned by construction union UCATT.

Read the Press Release

Photo: BSIP, Boucharlat, Science Photo Library.