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Maggie Durran: What to do if you find asbestos in church

by
24 June 2009

There is asbestos in one or two places in our church. It seems benign, and we avoid hammering in nails, so do we need to do more?

AT ITS WORST, asbestos is deadly, and therefore rules exist to protect workers and the general public from its effects.

In the 2006 regulations, churches are listed under non-domestic premises. They ask for a reasonable assessment to be made of the presence of asbestos, and then an assessment of risk must be carried out where it is present. The location should be monitored, and inform­ation given to everyone who may be liable to disturb it, including the emergency services.

The majority of churches were built, or had extensive repairs, before asbestos came into use in the 20th century, and are less likely to have a problem. But you may find it present in lagging, heating systems, organ blowers, and roofing materials. Some dioceses have set up pro­grammes for surveying asbestos in all their churches, so, before you act independently, check with the diocese.

I heard of one particularly bad experience, where a church com­missioned a specialist report, the specialist company quoted £6000 for removing a short length of pipe in the organ blower, and then sent an invoice for £26,000 when the work was completed. I also read a newsaper report about sharks in the asbestos business. They seemed to have the client over a barrel, and be able to charge whatever they liked. A case of double jeopardy.

But not all asbestos needs to be removed immediately; it depends on the type, the state it is in, and the likelihood of disturbance. In my area, a huge council-house block has a great deal of asbestos, and it has been left in situ, along with instructions to residents not to hammer in any nails or cut into the walls.

So how can you get good and reasonable advice? You could ask your inspecting architect to include an assessment during the quinquennial inspection. Since this is not a normal part of that inspection, you will need to agree the brief with the architect.

There are a couple of accrediting bodies for asbestos specialists, and these accredited specialists are required for cleaning asbestos from premises, complying with the necessary ISO standards and issuing the appropriate certificates. The situation is similar to Corgi and the new gas safety accreditations.

In the church example I quoted, the company was, in fact, accredited, but something went badly wrong. It is advisable to ask your architect, or another skilled professional, to assist with negotiations for the contract with the asbestos company. There is good information on the topic on the Churchcare website at HTTP://www.church care.co.uk 

In the church example I quoted, the company was, in fact, accredited, but something went badly wrong. It is advisable to ask your architect, or another skilled professional, to assist with negotiations for the contract with the asbestos company. There is good information on the topic on the Churchcare website at HTTP://www.church care.co.uk 

Talking of disturbance, I was in a church recently where members were discussing the pigeons’ eggs on the flat roof. They did not want to disturb the pigeons, but the question was: did they have too many pigeons already? And did they want to encourage them? Seagulls have the same habit of returning to old nesting sites.

If birds are using convenient corners of the building for nesting, it is up to you whether you leave nests alone until the chicks have flown, but it will be important to check afterwards whether they are causing damage that threatens the buildIng’s integrity. Then find some kindly way of encouraging them to go elsewhere.

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