Have you ever wondered whether it would be easier to ignore the dubious looking textured ceiling tiles at work…or just chuck the funny looking cement sheets into the skip with the rest of the builders' waste? Perhaps the thought of getting an asbestos survey carried out seems too onerous and you’ve put it on the nice-to-have or backburner list? Unfortunately, this sort of thinking is what gets ordinary, ‘above the law’ types of employers and building owners into deep water. In this blog, we hope to stop these thoughts in their tracks, and reveal the real cost of asbestos management - and mismanagement.
Similar to many hazards in any premises, asbestos is managed in line with legal statutes (notably the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 [CAR2012]), which place duties and responsibilities upon employers, employees, building owners, tenants, landlords, clients, and homeowners.
Under CAR 2012, the duty holder must:
Finally, everyone must cooperate with the duty holder to ensure they comply with their legal requirements.
Failure to comply with any of the above could result in court proceedings being brought against you by the HSE. These can be brought about by a whistleblower, arise from observations by the HSE (they have to be notified for certain work involving asbestos and, therefore, may ‘drop by’ to see how things are going) or in the event of a claim against you or your business.
The costs associated with a contravention of CAR 2012 are either directly linked to the breach for example fines, legal costs and fees; or indirectly for example loss of productive time or reputation.
Let’s look at the real costs of asbestos mismanagement in detail.
You, or the company, may be fined as a result of failing to fulfil your duties under CAR 2012. The fine will be proportionate to the nature of the breach and the size of your company.
Fine amounts vary however for simply not having a plan to manage asbestos in place you may be charged £20,000 or be handed a six month prison sentence. Serious breaches of the law can result in unlimited fines and up to two years imprisonment.
When the HSE are compelled to take action, they charge what they refer to as a ‘fee for intervention’. This is a flat-rate amount of £163 for each hour that they spend identifying the issue and helping you resolve it, both on your premises and while preparing their reports.
While you have thirty days to pay these fees, and you may only be charged for an hour or two - they nonetheless present a real cost of asbestos that may not occur to the average building owner or employer.
It can take up to 15 or 20 years for the symptoms of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other health defects and conditions to arise as a result of asbestos exposure. So, although the use of asbestos was outlawed in 1999, claims to compensate for health and personal losses as a result of these health conditions continue to be made, and will do so for some time. Pay-outs for these claims can run into the tens, or hundreds, of thousands of pounds and must be footed by the business or building occupier responsible for the exposure.
Other costs associated with a claim or court proceeding are solicitors’ fees and damage payments and surcharges that you may be required to pay. In some cases, these will be covered by your insurance, however, remain a cost worth knowing about.
When a breach is discovered by the HSE, or a claim is made against you, you will need to carry out an investigation into the circumstances and events that may defend (or condemn) your case. These investigations will occupy the time of your managers and staff in order to be thoroughly carried out; they may also be required to attend court proceedings.
The time it takes to carry out these investigations or attend meetings and court dates is unproductive time for you and the business and, therefore, presents an indirect cost to the business owner.
In a similar vein, workplaces and premises will need to be closed for the duration of an investigation and certainly until any ACMs present have been dealt with and made safe. While this goes on, employees may be told to down tools and shut down equipment. This lack of productivity could last days, weeks, or months depending on the work required and will present significant indirect costs.
Once you have been found to be in breach of the law, you will likely find that your buildings, contents, and liability insurance premiums all increase - particularly if you are required to pay a hefty fine or compensation, and regardless of whether the insurance policy covers the fines or fees. The amount will vary according to the nature of your business, the breach, and your insurer; however, you can count on this additional and real cost of asbestos mismanagement.
Once the word of a contravention is out in the open, your public reputation will be compromised. After all, who wants to work with a cowboy, rogue trader? Remember it can take years to build a solid reputation and mere moments to destroy it - and it may never recover. This loss of business can prove catastrophic when combined with the other real costs of asbestos, causing your business to fold completely.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely realised that the real cost of asbestos mismanagement can be catastrophically high, and you or your business may never recover from it.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There is a simple, easy, and cost-effective way to avoid the fines, court proceedings, and even prison time. It’s low stress and straightforward and will give you complete peace of mind that you’re in control of the asbestos risk in your property or premises.
The secret? Engage with an asbestos management company to help you fulfil all of your asbestos management duties, such as initial surveying of your premises, sampling of potential ACMs, production of risk assessments and more.