1 ASBESTOS Asbestos related illnesses are still on the increase Asbestos found in domestic properties is not a threat if Regulations and Good Practice are observed It is only a "danger" if suspected ACM is damaged It is still found in properties built as recently as Sampling and Analysis are good practice before Removal is undertaken; this is likely to significantly reduce Indemnity spend Ignore the issue at your peril! Misconceptions To many in the insurance industry, the mention of asbestos, is linked with a perception of problems from the past, whereas in fact deaths from asbestos related illness are not expected to peak for at least another 10 years. Many believe that use of asbestos occurred mostly in the US, however in the UK asbestos was also used extensively and we have consequently experienced a large number of asbestos related claims. Finally there is an understanding that asbestos is only found in heavy industry or commercial buildings, but in fact over 2 million homes in the UK are still believed to have some asbestos containing materials or ACMs. Overview Unlike commercial buildings, in domestic dwellings there is no legal duty to identify or manage the asbestos that may be present. For that reason dealing with asbestos as part of a domestic building repair claim can be problematical, particularly in an emergency situation. We will examine the legislation that governs the handling of asbestos; where asbestos is most likely to be found in a domestic property; how it should be identified and if present how it should be treated. With a proper set of processes and procedures in place, enforced across the entire supply chain, asbestos can be dealt with efficiently and economically. However as many insurers have found, without proper guidelines poorly handled asbestos issues can result in massive cost leakage and exposure to large liability claims. A Heavily Regulated Field Not surprisingly contact with asbestos, a potentially deadly material, is surrounded by red tape. Until recently there were a number of government acts that addressed different areas of asbestos legislation. In November 2006 the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) was introduced, with the aim of updating and bringing everything under one roof and removing any grey areas that had previously existed. CAR 2006 and the
2 Approved Code of Practices or ACOPs for short, contain everything that insurers and their suppliers needs to comply with in order to stay on the right side of the law. The overriding principles of CAR2006 can be summarised in four key points - Reg 10 states that anyone working or influencing work on the fabric of a building must receive Asbestos Awareness training to a level appropriate to the type of work they are undertaking. - The ACOPs state that suspected ACMs must be positively identified through sampling and analysis or must be presumed to contain Asbestos. - Reg16 states that everything must be done to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos and asbestos fibres from spreading - Reg 11 concludes that the minimum number of people possible should be exposed to asbestos fibres. One final point worth mentioning is the legal situation surrounding decorative textured coatings sometimes referred to by the trade name of Artex. The legal status of textured coatings changed with the introduction of CAR2006. Textured coatings were re-classified as non-licensed materials, meaning that it was no longer legally necessary for a Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractor to be appointed to work with this product. However many in the insurance industry misinterpret the legislation to mean that textured coatings have been effectively de-classified therefore no longer contain asbestos and so consequently no longer require testing or specialist removal. This is not the case and textured coatings must still be dealt with as diligently as other more dangerous forms of asbestos. When and Where Asbestos can be found in many areas within a property depending on the age and type of building. Those onsite workers that are legally compliant, ie have attended asbestos awareness training will have been taught all of the different locations where asbestos can be found. The fact that asbestos is present in a building does not mean that it is necessarily dangerous or that it needs to be automatically removed. The threat from asbestos is the release of microscopic, cancer causing fibres that when breathed in attach to the lungs and do not break down. So if asbestos is in good condition with the surfaces intact or encapsulated then there is no immediate danger. It is only when asbestos becomes damaged that it becomes potentially dangerous. Asbestos containing materials are rated for risk based on the kind of asbestos that is present and how well bonded it is within the overall material. The more friable the product the more likely that fibres will detach and become airborne so therefore the higher the risk. For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on two materials that between them account for over 95% of asbestos in homes, the previously mentioned decorative textured coatings and vinyl floor tiles often referred to by the trade name Marley tiles. Textured coatings are easily spotted but vinyl floor tiles are usually hidden underneath other flooring treatments such as underlay and carpet or laminate. Vinyl floor tiles were
3 extensively used as a base layer and a form of damp protection prior to other floors being laid on top. Both textured coatings and vinyl floor tiles share a number of characteristics: - It is possible to visually identify them but impossible by visual inspection to determine whether or not they contain asbestos. - The type of asbestos if present will be Chrysotile often called white asbestos. - The asbestos is very bonded within the matrix of the material so is considered a lower risk ACM. - Although both are non-licensed products they must still be dealt with appropriately One other misconception to debunk is that of the age of the property and when asbestos was actually banned and the answer may well surprise you. The blue and brown forms of asbestos most often found in industrial applications were banned in the 1980 s but white asbestos often used in Artex or Marley floor tiles was not restricted until Even then, the ban was far from total and still allowed chyrsotile containing products to be imported from overseas. It was only in 1999 that the use of all asbestos, apart from very specialist uses, was banned in the UK. With the lengthy shelf life of textured coatings and floor tiles a good rule of thumb is to sample all textured coating and vinyl floor tiles applied prior to The Need for Speed The typical scenario is an escape of water or flood claim where a ceiling or floor has itself become damaged or will need to be disturbed in order to effect a comprehensive repair. As we have established, the ceiling or the floor may or may not contain asbestos so what are the next steps that must be taken? Irrespective of how much information has been recorded on the first notice of loss it is unlikely that the presence of potential ACMs will have been noted. Therefore the first person to visit the property an inspector, adjuster, contractor or often in the case of water related claim a restoration company must perform a visual inspection in order to determine if any potential ACMs are present. In the event that a potential ACM is identified, it must be sampled and the samples must be analysed by a UKAS laboratory prior to any further work being undertaken. Getting samples taken and analysed can often cause long delays as another supplier would need to be appointed and in turn schedule a convenient time to visit and take the samples before they were processed by a lab. Delays of a week or more can be the norm and during this time policyholders were forced to stay in a potentially hazardous environment becoming more and more frustrated as no progress on the repair was evident. Increasingly the first person to visit site has now been trained and is able to self-sample on that first visit and get the sample analysed and the result back within 24 to 48 hours. This is a huge improvement that not only cuts down the time taken to close the claim but also dramatically improves the policyholders claims experience. There is an added benefit, that of the independence of those parties identifying the material and those responsible for removing any asbestos found. EU guidance is very clear that these two distinct tasks
4 must be undertaken by two unrelated companies and there should be no vested interest in the outcome of the analysis by the sampler or laboratory. As previously stated until the presence of asbestos has been ruled out, no further work can take place in the affected areas of the property and this includes the use of air drying and dehumidifying machinery. On a number of occasions use of such equipment prior to an asbestos test, has caused asbestos fibres to be spread through an entire property. In these unfortunate cases, the cost of de-contamination has been at least 20x the cost of the initial work and in some cases further damages have been awarded. A Positive Result, What Next? We have established that both textured coatings and vinyl floor tiles are currently nonlicensed materials and therefore it is not legally compulsory to appoint a licensed asbestos removal contractor to work on or remove either material. However despite being nonlicensed, the materials must still be dealt with and disposed of in a regulated manner. The vast majority of standard building repair contractors that make up the supply chains or panels of major insurers are not geared up to handling this type of work. In order to carry out work on non-licensed asbestos, the employees need far more training, a significant investment in specialist plant such as certified hepa filter vacuums and decontamination units is required, waste carriage licenses must be obtained and EL and PL insurance policies must be re-negotiated. After weighing up the additional costs of taking on this specialist work most contracting firms have decided not to bother. For the insurer the use of a reputable licensed asbestos removal contractor, whilst potentially more expensive, ensures that the work is carried out in a fully compliant manner with a full audit trail and traceability. This is not to say that an insurer cannot take a more active role in determining what kind of work actually takes place. A good example of where greater input from insurers could improve the way work is carried out and cut costs is damaged ceilings that contain asbestos. The tendency is for removals companies to insist that the entire ceiling is removed however this is not always the best or safest option for the policyholder. For ceilings where less than 1 sq meter of surface area is damaged the better and safer option is to patch repair the ceiling. Remember it goes back to one of the overriding principles we listed earlier, Reg 16 of CAR (2006) that states that the risk of exposure to fibres or spreading of fibres should be kept to a minimum, so patching part of a ceiling rather than removing an entire ceiling fits both criteria. Summary The secret to managing asbestos in repair claims in a safe yet cost effective manner is about understanding the problems and ensuring the proper processes and procedures are in place. Of paramount importance is the need for awareness training, not only of suppliers in the field but also of insurers own office based claims staff. This uniform knowledge base will minimise the chances of potential ACMs being missed on site.
5 Sampling should be undertaken independently of removal, preferably on the first visit to a property. Finally if insurers work closely with removal companies the scope and scale of jobs can be controlled to the benefit of both insurers and policyholders. Asbestos is a past and present problem that with the UK s aging housing stock looks destined to be with us well into the future ignore it at your peril. Ian Bullen Ian Bullen is a founder and director of bsure Testing Limited, provider of asbestos testing, training and consultancy services to the UK insurers and their supply chains. More information about bsure can be found on their web site: