Property owners and managers are showing increasing interest in dealing with asbestos within their property structures.
In April 2018, regulations came into effect, requiring non-residential and rented residential property owners to have an asbestos management plan in place for every property.
Enquiries to know more, rather than complaints from property owners, has been the common response, since the regulation came into effect
At least according to one major licensed removal company, Chemcare.
The company reports that requests to address local meetings of property owners around the country are gradually increasing, and daily telephone inquiries have increased tenfold in the past 12 months.
“The general impression we receive from property owners is that they think the regulations are reasonable. The regulations give property owners time to deal with the asbestos content in their buildings, rather than insist on immediate replacement.
“There is so much asbestos still contained within buildings that it will be many years before it can all be replaced.
“Owners are also aware of the dangers. This is probably what is driving interest in getting their management processes right.”
The regulations acknowledge that as long as the asbestos materials are kept in a “non-friable” state (prevented from flaking and becoming airborne), then a long term asbestos management plan can address how to keep the building safe until the time arrives to remove the asbestos. This in turn, allows time to plan and budget for eventual removal and replacement with asbestos-free materials.
Exactly how many building owners have asbestos management plans in place, is not recorded at central Government and is more likely to be known by local Councils.
And while the regulations can enforce fines of between $6,000 and $30,000 for property owners who don’t have asbestos management plans, the emphasis appears to be more on education more than enforcement.
Property owners do need to be mindful of spot checks by health and safety officers, or if officers are called to a property for other reasons. They will more than likely check to see if an asbestos management plan for the property exists, and whether it meets standards of safe management.
Another factor which is expected to encourage the production of asbestos management plans, is market value; a potential new owner will logically ask to see the asbestos management plan for the building before purchase, or negotiate the value of its absence from the transaction.
How to prepare an asbestos management plan
Many online providers advertise their services to undertake surveys to identify asbestos in a building and then prepare a long term plan to manage its removal and replacement.
Foremost, the plan is intended to keep people safe in any building, over decades of the building’s use. It may be decades before some of the asbestos products need to be replaced
It provides an annual record of replacement work completed and work left to do. Work can always be adjusted according to factors such the owner’s availability of funds or whether the building is temporarily vacant to allow some replacement work.
It removes worry often created by confusion about “what to do?” A plan for one aspect of a building’s management creates spare time to focus on other parts of the building.
The Chemcare approach
The Chemcare approach to asbestos management plans is designed to recognise the day to day operations in any building and make sure all employees and visitors can go about their business safely, calmly, but with reasonable awareness.
A sensible place to begin is to have signs at strategic points of a building where people traffic is regular. Chemcare can supply signs which alert people without creating undue concern. These signs remind everyone that asbestos is a completely harmless product when bound into building materials but it is important not to disturb it without safety procedures.
There are many ways this can be done. The Chemcare approach is to have a basic line map of any building with asbestos-containing areas marked, along with a brief description.
In larger buildings, there may be several plans covering parts or floors of the building.
These can be displayed in places such as reception or staff cafeterias. But again, ensure these signs ”alert without alarm.”
These maps should not be excessively detailed but have sufficient information for occupants and service people who need to do occasional work in the building, where to take care.
The map can also have a short number of points when explain how to keep safe if these asbestos areas are being altered.
A licensed asbestos service company can undertake the survey of any building and produce the identity plans. This information has another important function of protecting the market value of the building.
Buildings containing asbestos do not necessarily suffer value reduction; if the asbestos products are sound and well maintained, they can safely service a building for many years before an “asbestos management plan” determines their removal.
A survey of the building by a licensed sampling company (of which there are many certified by Worksafe), will record all locations of asbestos materials in the building as well as the condition of those materials.
It would be very rare to find a building with several locations of asbestos materials dangerously exposed for potential inhalation by passing people traffic. Most asbestos materials are safe and can continue to serve the building for many years.
A plan will recognise these differences. For example, it might be important to remove some ceiling and wall insulation early, while roof tiles still have many years of hardy work life in them.
An efficient licensed removal company will be able to work with the occupants so that human safety is placed first but also acknowledging long term financial needs.
Or, an entire floor of a large building might have a simple entry in the plan that it’s asbestos content will be reviewed again in five or ten years’ time, because of its stable state and the fact that people have full knowledge to behave safely on that floor.
Health and safety
Because asbestos management is a part of the Health and Safety Act, reporting of incidents or accidental disturbance of asbestos areas, is required. This reporting can normally fall within the duties of a building’s health and safety officer. The building plan can contain information sheets for these incidents.
Building owners may ask for the help of tenants to maintain this type of reporting.
Ideally, an asbestos management plan can be filed with the health and safety files of the building. The original plan can be a computer file, while the working document can be progressively stored as hard copy. Chemcare recommends that the asbestos management plan is collated year by year, as the plan is implemented or changed, incidents are reported and paperwork of licensed service people is received. This file can be handed over to any new owner of the building t provide continuity of safe management of any asbestos content.