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Think about it; it’s probably there. Asbestos: hidden killer

by PETER AUSTIN, manager of ACAD, the Asbestos Control and Abatement Division of the Thermal Insulation Contractors’ Association (TICA)

As I travel around the UK I often look and marvel at our churches and cathedrals. I am impressed by their beauty and design and I am in awe of the skills of the craftsman who built those magnificent buildings. I also often wonder at the spiritual meaning of the buildings and if other people who have lived, worked and worshipped in them were moved as I am by their reassuringly constant presence in our communities.

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The last thing I usually think about when looking at churches is asbestos. However, a recent event at a village called Thursby in Cumbria has made me reconsider.

St Andrews Church in Thursby was recently damaged by a fire which started in the boiler room below the vestry. Boiler rooms and plant rooms are not very pleasant places and seldom figure in people’s thoughts for too long, if at all. However, in this case the boiler room ceiling had at some point been fitted with asbestos insulation boards to provide fire protection. In fact, the asbestos had done its job, delaying the fire and preventing it from totally destroying the building other than the vestry.

It suddenly struck me how few churches I had been asked to survey for asbestos or had attended during removal of asbestos materials. That got me thinking as to why this might be the case.

Could it be that there was no asbestos in any of our churches? Well, asbestos was used primarily as fire protection (but also for cold and noise insulation as well) and as many churches, especially the older ones, are at first glance built from stone and brick, there would appear not to be much need for asbestos to have been used.

That is an easy assumption to make, but one which often proves to be wrong. Even our medieval churches and cathedrals have been changed and altered countless times over the centuries, and during the 20th century many would have had heating and hot water systems installed along with the latest wonder material for fire protection: asbestos.

Much of which will still be in situ, protecting the building; but also, as we have now come to realise, representing a real health risk to anyone who is exposed to its contamination and breathes in its deadly fibres. I have also discovered in the past that many of our church organs contain dangerous types of asbestos, which is quite worrying when you understand that asbestos is at its most dangerous when airborne and it can be easily blown out through the organ pipes!

Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 places a responsibility on the ‘duty holder’ – basically anyone who has the power to authorise work on the structure of the building – to have in place an asbestos management plan to prevent accidental exposure to asbestos as a result of asbestos materials being disturbed. The best way to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and obligations under Regulation 4 is to commission an asbestos survey of the building or buildings by an appropriately qualified company specialising in asbestos materials.

At ACAD we can help by offering free advice on how to identify a suitable company to undertake such work and how you can avoid possible prosecution by ensuring you fulfil all of the requirements on managing asbestos in your buildings.
Contact www.tica-acad.com.