Death of School Teacher after Asbestos Exposure - Who is Responsible for Managing the Risk of Asbestos?

Last week saw the sad news emerge of a primary school teacher who had passed away after contracting cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Elizabeth Belt passed away aged 68 after battling mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure, for three years. An investigation into her death revealed that she frequently pinned students work to asbestos boards at various schools across North Lincolnshire where she worked.

At the inquest, it was revealed that North Lincolnshire Council’s insurers had settled a personal injury claim with Belt’s family. The level of compensation has not been revealed.

This tragic story highlights the widespread problem of asbestos in the UK. Today at Unlock the Law we take a look at who is responsible for assessing asbestos risk in the workplace and other commercial buildings.

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Who is responsible for managing asbestos?

Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (Regulations) imposes a duty to manage the risk of asbestos in non-domestic premises. The ‘duty holder’ is under an obligation to determine whether asbestos is present in the property, or is likely to be present. The duty holder must then ‘manage’ the presence or likely presence of the asbestos. There can be more than one duty holder at any given time. This will firstly be the landlord, and also any person who has an obligation to maintain or repair commercial premises, exercises some element of control over the premises and has access to the premises. This means that both the tenant and the landlord are duty holders where the property is let.

Does a landlord require an asbestos survey to rent a property?

Landlords do not have to arrange an asbestos survey to rent a property. Many tenants believe that asbestos surveys are mandatory. However, this is not the case. The landlord must simply comply with their obligations as ‘duty holder’ under the regulations. Tenants cannot force a landlord to carry out an asbestos survey.

Although landlords do not need to instruct a survey before letting the property, there are certain obligations which they must adhere to.

Landlords must keep records and a written plan for managing asbestos. Managing asbestos does not necessarily mean removing it. Sometimes the best approach is to leave the asbestos in situ, where it can be contained and therefore, safe. They are also required to provide information about the location and condition of the asbestos to anyone who may disturb it, or is likely to disturb it. This will normally be provided to tenants, contractors and employees. More information about working with and managing asbestos for em ployers, employees and general members of he public can be found on the Health & Safety Executive's website. 

Landlords are not permitted to shift their obligations as a duty holder to their tenant. Where both landlord and tenant are duty holders, the responsibilities of each party are to be determined by the maintenance and repair obligations owed by each party to the other. In practice, this is normally what is outlined in the lease.

If you have suffered industrial disease as a result of asbestos exposure, read our personal injury guide to find out more about making a personal injury compensation claim.

 

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