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Facility Managers: Where does Health and Safety responsibility lie?

Health and safety management for residential, commercial and retail properties is an area of critical importance. Issues such as fire safety, asbestos management, water safety and electrical safety, can all result in damaging incidents that can have serious effects on the health and safety of residents and the image and financial success of the property management company.

Generally, under UK law, the duty to comply with health  & safety regulations falls on the landlord or managing agent, except as it relates to a workplace environment. A tenant that rents a property for their business may be liable to carry out a health and safety risk assessment in the workplace with regard to fire safety, the safety of electrical equipment, gas safety and managing asbestos. The lease will specify whether the tenant or the landlord or managing agent is responsible in a workplace situation.

The inherent responsibilities of all property managers are:

  • Managing property on behalf of the landlord
  • Providing services to leaseholders and tenants
  • Collecting monies from leaseholders and tenants including service charges and rents
  • Insurance of the building
  • Health and safety risk assessment and enforcement
  • General maintenance

Conducting effective health and safety risk assessments are essential to adequately identifying hazards or areas of risk, removing or reducing the hazard or risk, putting in place appropriate safety measures and procedures and informing and training staff in those measures. There are 5 important areas of risk management and assessment: fire, electrical, dangerous substances, asbestos, and work height.

Fire safety risk assessments (BAFE SP205)

Just like employers, landlords and property managers have certain legal obligations under the Fire Safety Order to carry out fire risk assessments in all areas of their properties. This process should identify any fire hazards and who is at risk and decide if anything needs to be done to remove or reduce that risk. For common or shared areas, the responsible person is the landlord, freeholder or managing agent.

Electrical safety

Risk assessment must include the evaluation of threats such as shocks, burns or death resulting from exposure to electricity due to out-of-date electrical installation, inadequate number or overloading of existing electrical outlets, inappropriately sited fuses and meters, disrepair of fuses, wiring, sockets, light fittings or switches, electrical installations in close proximity to water.

A property managing agent is potentially liable under the Defective Premises Act if a tenant or resident suffers death or injury or has personal belongings damaged as a result of a defect in the electrical system in the premises.  In the case of houses in multiple occupation, there is a requirement to have a five-yearly safety check carried out to the electrical installation by a competent electrician.

Dangerous substances

Property managing risk agents are liable for the proper use and control of Dangerous substances, which include :

Volatile organic compounds which include formaldehyde, that are gaseous at room temperature that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and drowsiness.

  • Radon gas, which causes lung cancer. 
  • Lead. When ingested, lead accumulates in the body, and has toxic effects on the nervous system, cognitive development and blood production. Continual exposure at low levels has been shown to cause mental retardation and behavioural problems in children. General found in old lead paint or old lead water supply pipework in dwellings constructed before 1970.
  • Biocides are a chemical used to treat timber and mold treatment growth in buildings.
  • Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products such as gas, oil and solid fuel used for heating and cooking. Health effects at high concentrations can cause unconsciousness and death.

Asbestos surveys/awareness

The UK has the highest levels of mesothelioma in the world, losing more people to the disease each year than are killed in road accidents. The number of deaths has increased significantly from 158 in 1968 to 2,535 in 2012 and the figure is still rising. (Source Mesothelioma in Great Britain 2014 (PDF).)

From a regulatory perspective, all buildings built prior to 2000 must, therefore, be regarded as potentially asbestos-containing and managed in accordance with a stringent list of requirements to ensure that any risk from asbestos is effectively controlled.

Water tank systems

The quality and adequacy of the supply of water within the dwelling for drinking and for domestic purposes such as cooking, washing, cleaning and sanitation. As well as the adequacy, it includes threats to health from contamination by bacteria, protozoa, parasites, viruses, and chemical pollutants.

Managers must ensure that the water supply and drainage system serving the property is maintained in good, clean and working condition and in particular:

  • any tank, cistern or similar receptacle used for the storage of water for drinking or other domestic purposes is kept in a good, clean and working condition, with a cover kept over it to keep the water in a clean and proper condition; and
  • any water fitting which is liable to damage by frost is protected from frost damage.

The manager must not unreasonably cause or permit the water or drainage supply that is used by any occupier at the property to be interrupted.

Working height regulations

Falls from height are the biggest single cause of fatal injuries and the second biggest cause of major injuries, caused by accidents at work. In April 2005, new Work at Height regulations were introduced in an effort to reduce workplace injuries. The regulations apply to all work activities where there is a need to control a risk of falling a distance liable to cause a personal injury.

Under the regulations, Employers have the duty to:

  • Assess the risk to help decide how to work safely
  • Avoid, prevent, mitigate; and give collective measures for safe work at height
  • Plan and organize the work properly, taking account of weather conditions and possible emergencies
  • Make sure those working at height are competent
  • Use appropriate work equipment
  • Manage the risks from working on or around fragile surfaces and falling objects
  • Inspect and maintain work equipment and the space to be worked in

An effective and regularly conducted risk assessment of key areas of risk within the property is essential to good health and safety management.

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