‘Tenants want, and have a right to, good and affordable accommodation,’ says Rogier Goes, Policy Advisor for Safe and Healthy Living at Aedes. ‘There are many factors in terms of architecture and installation technology at play here. Naturally, corporations take on as much of this responsibility as they can. I support them in implementing their duties, and Aedes offers them a platform to meet and exchange knowledge.’ We presented Goes with some striking results from the National Asbestos Survey 2017.
The risks of asbestos
In the National Asbestos Survey 2017, housing corporations indicated that they believe that the changes to laws and regulations on asbestos are ensuring greater clarity and safety. However, asbestos abatement has also become expensive and difficult. Goes: ‘The hazards posed by asbestos have been known for quite some time, of course, and have been an important focus point for corporations. Unfortunately, a suitable risk approach is insufficiently reflected in current legislation. For example, I’d highlight phenomena such as the evacuation of Roermond’s city centre, where an attempt was made to remove every last fibre. Or windowsills in housing that need to be removed using invasive measures, despite the fact that, as usual, it becomes clear that absolutely no fibres are coming loose. Corporations think that the costs they are paying are too high when compared to the health risks. The altered laws and regulations on asbestos are complex, but when there are high risks involved, extra safety is important, and tightened regulations can be useful.’
Rationally vs. emotion
Apart from asbestos, Aedes also focuses on fire safety, open combustion devices and construction problems with gallery floors and balconies: ‘Disasters have increased risk awareness, and we have to recognize that social acceptance of risks has changed. The topic of “safe and healthy living" can no longer be ignored, and will probably only become more important in future. Aedes advocates a level-headed approach to issues relating to asbestos, which means striking a balance between rationality and emotion,’ says Goes.
Out of proportion
However, Aedes’ contacts do sometimes voice criticisms concerning the rules and regulations, calling them ‘blown out of proportion’. There is a clear demand for insights into and distinctions between the perceived and actual risks. Goes is aware of this: ‘The laws and regulations do not allow housing corporations to apply a risk-based policy. However, there are some possibilities to demonstrate to Ascert that asbestos regulations do not have to apply to specific applications. Here, Aedes has picked up the gauntlet together with Bouwend Nederland and Koninklijke OnderhoudNL (association of specialists in total real estate maintenance, ed.). For example, validation measurements for asbestos-containing glazing sealants have shown that the removal thereof can be carried out under risk class 1. We are trying to create a protocol for this. However, this still appears to be quite tricky in practice.’
What does Aedes do?
Aedes is the association of housing corporations in the Netherlands. Almost all 300 housing corporations in the Netherlands are members of Aedes. Together, they manage 2.4 million rental properties, which house 4 million people. These homes account for almost a third of the Dutch housing stock. Aedes represents the interests of housing corporations, for example on issues surrounding asbestos. The association is a consultation partner of Ascert, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
Proportional asbestos policy
‘Corporations believe it’s about time for asbestos to be considered a normal and discussable topic that deserves a “normal” solution,’ Goes continues. ‘The sizeable investments clients have to make for the removal of asbestos are not proportional to the health risks. Consider the Talis corporation from Nijmegen: in their experience, tenants often have a much more realistic estimate of asbestos risks than government officials. A notorious example of this is the asbestos fire in Roermond, following which the entire inner city was closed off. We are now trying to create momentum to create a proportional asbestos policy. We are doing this together with representatives from public administration, safety and healthcare, and knowledge institutes.
At the tiller with the LAVS
Another of Aedes’ priorities is increased professionalization of the asbestos policy of corporations. Goes: ‘They could still profit a lot more from each other’s experience and knowledge. That’s why we have created a platform and stimulate the exchange of insights. LAVS, the National Asbestos Register, is a fantastic way for corporations to take control of their asbestos policy. This is also why Aedes helped lay the foundations for the LAVS, and financially supported the organization via the FLOW training fund. Although the legal requirements for using the LAVS do not apply to clients, they are an extra incentive for corporations to take control themselves. That is why we supplied our members with information about the added value of the system for corporations during regional meetings this spring. In addition, in an implementation project for members, they can make use of an LAVS script written especially for corporations.
New asbestos abatement techniques
The survey also showed that 75% of corporations are promoting the use of new asbestos abatement techniques. Goes is pleased about these developments: ‘For an over-regulated industry such as ours, where tenants justifiably also have high demands on the quality and safety of properties, it is difficult to start working with new techniques. The fact that such a large number of corporations are open to new asbestos abatement techniques is a good sign. A great example is the “mini-equipment” that allows asbestos abatement workers to deal with small objects in inhabited spaces without having to wear white suits and masks.’
Adequate Contingency plan
Half of the participating housing corporations has in the past had to confront an asbestos emergency (an unexpected asbestos discovery). A quarter made changes to their protocols following such an emergency. Goes recognizes this scenario: ‘During renovations, corporations sometimes unexpectedly encounter asbestos, the presence of which wasn’t listed in the inventory report. Sometimes, residents themselves used asbestos-containing materials, such as linoleum. Asbestos can also come loose during a fire. Preventing these kinds of emergencies completely isn’t possible, but internal procedures should always be reinforced. It is important to be alert, and ensure that an adequate contingency plan is in place.’
‘The topic of safe and healthy living can no longer be ignored, and will probably only become more important in future.’
Clear communication is vital
Tenants are increasingly placing (high) demands on clear communication and information. Results from the survey show that corporations place greater value on communication with residents on the (possible) presence of asbestos. Goes confirms this: ‘Clear communication is vital. However, it’s often also tricky, because this subject carries so much emotional baggage with it. We have noticed that increasing numbers of corporations are using check lists on which tenants can recognize the possible presence of asbestos in their home. In the event of emergencies, the contingency plan is used. Sometimes, the GGD (Municipal Health Service) are called so that they can inform tenants independently.’
Half of the participating housing corporations expect that the amount of asbestos abatement will continue to rise in 2017. Simultaneously, resident satisfaction is becoming an increasingly important topic for them. Goes sees a link between both topics: ‘A sensitive issue like asbestos can definitely affect resident satisfaction. The nuisance making an inventory can cause, and the disturbance caused by asbestos abatement, must be limited as much as possible. I think it would be worthwhile if clients, the people making the inventory and asbestos abatement professionals would jointly examine how they could contribute to this,’ he concludes.