As many people know, asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000. But when we say before 2000, how far back should we really go? Large scale, industrial use of asbestos didn’t really start until the mid 19th century, so it would be easy to assume that anything built prior to then – such as medieval churches and cathedrals made from stone, brick and more stone – would be safe. Correct?
Well on one hand, yes; but on the other hand, absolutely not.
Over the centuries, our oldest buildings have been altered countless times, and during the 20th century in particular, many have had roofing, insulation, heating and hot water systems installed, alongside what was then the latest magic mineral for fire protection – asbestos.
(A little known fact is that asbestos can even be found inside the air box of many old church organs. Should it start to disintegrate, asbestos particles can be blown through the instrument and escape into the church building as the organist blows merrily away, with the obvious airborne health risk to the congregation).
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Whatever the age of your place of worship, the management of asbestos in all buildings is regulated by law. The duty to manage asbestos is directed at those who manage any kind of non-domestic premises: the people with responsibility for protecting others who work in such premises, or use them in other ways, from the risks to ill health that exposure to asbestos causes.
In the context of churches, the Duty Holder is the Parochial Church Council – and the principal duty is the making of a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos is or is liable to be present in the premises. Read more about the Duty to Manage Asbestos here.
How do dutyholders comply?
There are four essential steps:
- find out whether the premises contains asbestos, and, if so, where it is and what condition it is in. If in doubt, materials must be presumed to contain asbestos.
- assess the risk from asbestos present in the premises.
- make a plan to manage that risk and act on it.
- provide this information to other employers (eg building contractors) who are likely to disturb any asbestos present, so that they can put in place appropriate control while the work is being done.
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