Health and Safety Executive and the Common Areas
Freeholders, managing agents, and resident management companies (including right to manage companies) are required to comply with wide ranging heath and safety legislation to ensure not just the safety of those who live on the premises but those who visit or who are employed to carry out various works. This is because both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Courts view these as workplaces, just as they do commercial properties.
So, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all blocks of flats are required to have a health and safety risk assessment carried out (and reviewed annually) in respect of the common areas. These are areas not individually owned by leaseholders and cover the structure of the building, the land the building stands on, gardens, paths, garages and any outbuildings. They will also cover areas inside the building such as plant rooms, lift motor rooms, and meter cupboards. However, as there is no legal definition of common areas it will be the lease that is the definitive document.
A large part of the service charge budget may be required to adhere to the legislation but failure to comply could come at a far greater cost should an accident or injury occur.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, and updated previous asbestos regulations because the European Commission believed that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).
What remains the same however is that if there is existing asbestos containing materials in good condition and not likely to be disturbed or damaged, they can be left in place. The ‘responsible person’ for asbestos management will ensure that regular monitoring is carried out and a register kept that contains where the asbestos is located, and it’s type and condition. The ‘responsible person’ will also ensure that regular risk assessments are carried out and anyone working on the premises will be protected.
Asbestos removal is required to be carried out by a licensed contractor as is all work with sprayed asbestos coatings and lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board (AIB).
All parties must ensure that 5 year fixed wiring tests and PAT testing of portable electrical equipment in common parts is carried out according to the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. Thorough inspections and maintenance of lifts must also be carried out under the Lifting Operation and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Safety Assessment Federation.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) 2005 requires a ‘responsible person’ to carry out, implement and maintain a fire safety risk assessment for the common/shared areas of blocks of flats. This is to ensure the safety of all residents, visitors or employees to the property. Fire Officers have the authority to enter and carry out inspections both to the exterior and internally for which the Fire Authorities have a statutory duty to ensure compliance.
In addition to ensuring the safety of people, areas covered by a fire risk assessment will be to check the following:
- Ignition sources and flammable materials;
- Fire-fighting equipment, i.e. extinguishers
- Fire doors;
- Smoke detection;
- Escape routes and evacuation procedures.
WATER SAFETY AND LEGIONELLA TESTING
Freeholders and managers are under a legal obligation to ensure that residents are not at risk to exposure of the legionella bacteria in the water systems. This is not new as it stems from the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1989 with s3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (general duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees) making provisions for the legislation to apply to landlords of both business and domestic premises.
Whilst the legionella bacteria is found in most water systems the risk comes in low temperature environments of between 20 and 45 degrees celcius where it can survive and multiply and reach dangerous levels. This can also occur in stagnant water contained within redundant (unused) pipework or rarely used outlets which can contain rust, sludge and organic matter.
It is the inhalation of droplets of water contaminated by Legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease and people most at risk are individuals with weaker immune systems.
Risk assessments must be regularly reviewed by a competent person defined by the HSE as ‘someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience’. An agent can fall into this category if they have an understanding of how to inspect the premises for any risks. The legal duties for landlords who provide residential properties can be read here.
Note: New assessments need to be carried out should vulnerable tenants move in or a system is updated/altered.
A written record must be kept that needs to include:
- The name of the person carrying out the risk assessment;
- The review date;
- A list of the systems being assessed;
- Any potential sources of risk;
- Any risk controls in place;
- Records of monitoring, inspections, maintenance procedures and checks.
WORKING AT HEIGHTS
Work at heights is governed by the Work at Heights Regulations 2005. Work under this description can be at any height that a person could be injured from falling from it so it is very wide ranging so the principle is that any work at height must be avoided if its practical to do the work in another way. It it can’t be avoided than a risk assessment must be carried out and the work planned accordingly. Changing light bulbs, window cleaning, smoke detector checking, gutter cleaning, all require the use of a ladder of varying sizes so if the landlord supplies one then it needs to be checked regularly and a notice stuck on it detailing safety precautions for its use.
A brief guide can be found here.