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The risks of asbestos and other hazardous materials in commercial premises, and how to solve them

Written by: Ian Harrington on Wednesday 09/11/2016

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Hazardous materials include solids, liquids and gases which can potentially harm people, animals or the environment. Because of the varied nature of the activities in commercial premises, hazardous materials are common. We take a look at the most dangerous ones and offer advice on how to deal with them.

Asbestos

In her autobiography, the American cook, Julia Childs, notes with delight using a new type of roof tile to cook her baguettes to perfection. Ms Childs soon discovered that these tiles were made of asbestos and subsequently strongly recommended that none of her fans should follow her example. Asbestos was the ‘wonder’ material of the early-to-mid-20th century – flame retardant, easy to work with and cost-effective to produce. Today, its installation is illegal its and removal is tightly controlled because of its severe impact on health.

Asbestos occurs naturally and is a fibrous silicate mineral which has properties of strength, durability and fire-retardance. Before it was banned it was used in many public, private and commercial buildings and, provided it is left undisturbed, usually presents no threat to health. However, it is when asbestos is interfered with and the particles inhaled that problems can occur. These include asbestosis (an inflammatory condition of the lungs), mesothelioma (a rare type of cancer), lung cancer, and other lung problems. It is estimated that asbestos kills around 5,000 people each year, due to past exposure to the product.

If your commercial building was built or refurbished after the year 2000, asbestos should not present a problem. However, if your building is older than that or underwent refurbishment before that date, it is vital that you take note of two pieces of legislation: The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (2002) and The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2006). The first of these requires that exposure to asbestos be prevented or minimised as much as possible, requiring risk assessments before any work is undertaken which may expose workers to the substance. The second stipulates that anyone working with asbestos must be appropriately trained.

Lead

On 1 January 2000, lead in petrol was banned in the UK on the grounds that it caused health and behavioural problems in children. The dangers of lead have been known for many years and health problems caused by prolonged absorption of lead can include: headaches, fatigue, abdominal pain, anaemia, memory loss, kidney failure, fertility problems, miscarriage, and permanent damage to vital organs. In extreme cases it can kill.

The most common cause of lead exposure is the removal of old paint, although it can also be through demolition or dismantling processes, smelting, or partaking in lead recovery. If you suspect that your commercial premises contains lead, either in the paintwork, the plumbing or on the roof, you must conduct an assessment in accordance with The Control of Lead at Work (CLAW) Regulations 2002 which is designed to protect employees and occupiers.

Other hazardous substances

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (Amendment) Regulations (COSHH) 2004 define substances into Irritant, Harmful, Corrosive, Toxic or Very Toxic and outline regulations regarding their safe use.  They offer guidance around risk assessment, good practice, training and emergency procedures. More details can be found on the website of the Health & Safety Executive. It is important that both commercial tenants and landlords familiarise themselves with the legislation to prevent injury, exposure or potential fatalities.

For more information about minimising the risks of asbestos and other hazardous materials in commercial premises, contact a member of our team. We can offer advice and guidance about current legislation, whether you’re a landlord or a tenant.

Written by: Ian Harrington on Wednesday 09/11/2016

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