Homeowner exposed to asbestos for 10 days

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It is said that asbestos poses no problem in a building unless it is disturbed or starts to disintegrate. Its presence in any domestic home remains a serious issue, however, and was recently highlighted by the plight of a family in Hemel Hempstead.

The young couple who have a four-month old baby have been forced out of their home due to asbestos fibres being released during rewiring works. They hired an electrical firm to rewire the property, but asbestos was uncovered in the boiler area. The family now face an uncertain future as they are unable to return to their home due to asbestos contamination.

Two insurance companies have reportedly refused to pay for the substance to be removed – a task requiring contractors with specialist asbestos training. The cost of the operation is said to be around £30,000, and the family car has also had to be sealed off.

Asbestos in domestic properties

Many building materials used prior to 2000 contain asbestos, now known to be one of the most dangerous carcinogens and the cause of around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths a year.

Asbestos insulation boarding, sprayed asbestos coatings, and loft/wall insulation are just a few of the products that, when disturbed or broken up, release tiny fibres that potentially cause life-threatening disease if inhaled.

No insurance cover for asbestos removal

The house in Hemel Hempstead was built in the 1970s and contained asbestos in the boiler area. Homeowner, Ashley Purser, who was exposed to it for 10 days before the dangers became apparent, assumed the electricians’ professional indemnity insurance would cover the cost of removal, or that it would be included on his own home insurance policy.

Unfortunately, neither insurance company was able to pay a claim in this respect, leaving Mr Purser and his family without a home or their family car. He said,

“There must be thousands of tradesmen and companies up and down the UK who work with asbestos day in and day out, and with insurance companies who will swerve the indemnity if asbestos is involved.”

Specific training required to handle and remove asbestos

Three categories of asbestos training exist in the UK:

  • Category 1: asbestos awareness
    By law, employers must provide asbestos awareness training to any worker likely to come across the substance during their normal work schedule
  • Category 2: non-licensable work with asbestos
    This includes training for notifiable non-licensable work, or NNLW
  • Category 3: licensable work with asbestos
    For anyone handling/removing asbestos

Contractors licensed to work with asbestos would be needed to remove the asbestos from Mr Purser’s home, and to decontaminate the property and car. Quotes of £30,000 for the removal process have reportedly been made, and a further £20,000 to replace the car.

The family also face large legal bills if they decide to sue the electrical firm they originally hired, but there is no guarantee that even this would be possible. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are carrying out their own investigation.