The Duty to Manage Asbestos

Small business owners, government officials, environmental workers, and all those who manage non-domestic premises have the responsibility to protecting others from the dangers of asbestos. Exposure to asbestos is a uniquely dangerous public health risk. The naturally-occurring material is comprised of six different fibers, all commonly referred to as asbestos. The fibers are dangerous when they become airborne, a danger heightened by its invisibility and lack of taste or smell. Asbestos was used commercially and industrially around the globe for more than half of the twentieth century, and can still be found in thousands of products, buildings, and auto-motives. Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm enforce the duty to manage asbestos as a vital responsibility. Anyone with power to manage and oversee is entrusted to protect the health and safety of their workers, a duty that cannot be taken lightly.

Managers have not only a moral obligation, but a legal one as well to protect the health of their employees. The United States Department of Labor created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970 to protect employers and employees and create national standards for workplace safety and health. OSHA regulates the maintenance of asbestos specifically and diligently.

Those instilled with the duty are the people or organization that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises through an explicit agreement such as a tenancy agreement or contract. The extent of the duty will depend on the nature of that agreement. In a multi-occupied building, the agreement might be that the owner takes on the full duty for the whole building. Or it might be that the duty is shared – for example, the owner takes responsibility for the common parts while the leaseholders take responsibility for the parts they occupy. Sometimes, there might be an agreement to pass the responsibilities to a managing agent.

In some cases, there may be no tenancy agreement or contract. Or, if there is, it may not specify who has responsibility for the maintenance or repair. In these cases the duty is placed on whoever has control of the premise, such as the owner.
They are required to, among other things:

  • Take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in
  • Presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • Make, and keep up-to-date records of the location and condition of the asbestos containing materials.
  • Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibers from the materials identified
  • Prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed
  • Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
  • Periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date
  • Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them

There is also a requirement on anyone to cooperate as far as is necessary to allow the dutyholder to comply with the above requirements.

Some basic principles to remember:

  • Don’t remove asbestos unnecessarily – removing it can be more dangerous than leaving it in place and managing it
  • Not all asbestos materials present the same risk. The measures that need to be taken for controlling the risks from materials such as pipe insulation are different from those needed in relation to asbestos cement
  • Don’t assume you need to bring in a specialist in every case (for example, you can inspect your own building rather than employ a surveyor). But, if you do, make sure they are competent
  • If you are unsure about whether certain materials contain asbestos, you can presume they do and treat them as such

Remember that the duty to manage is all about putting in place the practical steps necessary to protect maintenance workers and others from the risk of exposure to asbestos fibers. It is not about removing all asbestos

Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge the public to take responsibility for their health and that of those around them. If you suspect mismanagement of any non-domestic building and have developed an illness as a result, contact an asbestos lawyer today for a free consultation.

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