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RAAC concrete and associated asbestos risks

Sponsored feature | Colin Jones, Partner, HCR Hewitsons

The structural risks associated with the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in UK schools and other public buildings dominated the headlines at the end of the summer. In doing so, it brought to light the critical importance of building managers regularly assessing and addressing the condition of their properties, whether in the public or private sector.

In regard to affected schools, the Department for Education (DfE) has now identified numerous sites across the UK, both in the public and private sectors, as being at risk of structural failure. The historical usage of RAAC, a lightweight concrete variant commonly employed in school construction since the mid-1950s, is coming home to roost given that it has a limited life span. While RAAC was initially deemed a cost-effective choice, where it is time-expired, serious safety concerns have been raised.

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Recent evaluations have underscored the potential risks associated with aging RAAC, which tends to be less durable than traditional concrete, potentially leading to structural failures.

In fact, concerns about the durability of RAAC in buildings have been circulating for more than two decades. Recent events, including the collapse of a RAAC-built roof at a school in Kent in 2018 and three other significant structural failures in school buildings, have propelled the issue to the forefront.

The structural risks associated with RAAC and the presence of asbestos add an extra layer of complexity to the safety management of properties.
The structural risks associated with RAAC and the presence of asbestos add an extra layer of complexity to the safety management of properties.

However, a much more widespread building safety issue applies in the form of asbestos-manufactured building materials. The RAAC concerns have given impetus to building occupiers to update their asbestos registers and avoid disturbing embedded asbestos materials, including during RAAC-related investigations.

Asbestos, a fire-resistant fibrous material, was used in the manufacture of various building components in the past and poses significant health risks when damaged or disturbed. In a broken state it can release harmful fibres into the air which lead to severe health issues, including cancer.

While using asbestos in construction or refurbishment is now illegal, the health risk persists in older structures. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply to non-domestic premises and impose obligations on duty holders to manage asbestos risks. Regular monitoring and suitable control measures are essential.

The current RAAC investigations have raised concerns about localised asbestos materials being disturbed during RAAC maintenance work or building collapses. The full extent of remedial work required and its funding remains uncertain. Occupiers of all forms of building where asbestos materials have been used must be vigilant and act in accordance with safety measures.

The structural risks associated with RAAC in relevant buildings and the more widespread presence of asbestos add an extra layer of complexity to the safety management of properties. It remains crucial for those with responsibilities for buildings maintenance to take careful note of what it being asked of them in terms of ensuring the safety of those individuals in occupation of properties.

For more information, contact Colin Jones, partner, head of construction legal services on 01223 532731, 07801 286222 or cdjones@hcrlaw.com.

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