Tackling Asbestos at Liberty Church
Although sometimes ridiculed, Health & Safety is an important part of keeping a congregation safe, as Pastor Adrian Dexter from Liberty Church, Rotherham found out in late 2015:
Becoming a Pastor of an established Church building is a very steep learning curve. Bible College taught me Theology and the principles of ministry, but it did not prepare me for the management details and responsibilities associated with a large church building!
I am the first to admit that I am not a practical person, and being part of a small church congregation means that there are not necessarily the people with the right expertise or the time to manage building issues that we had to face.
Our Church building was constructed in the 1970's, in a time where asbestos was used regularly and abundantly. In September 2015 we commissioned a Full Management Asbestos Survey of the building, primarily because we knew that there was asbestos in certain parts and we were suspicious of other material scattered throughout the building. The survey cost us £450.00, but gave us a detailed breakdown of every dangerous material in the building, its location and our management responsibilities.
We have a group of passionate volunteers who have kept the building going through the lean periods of the church's history. As the Chair of Trustees I understood that I have a responsibility and duty of care for all who work in the building. In the basement where some of our volunteers regularly work, asbestos was found on the steel work, on the walls, floors and pipe work. The area was sealed off and we hired in a reputable local company to remove the asbestos, and do a full environmental clean of the area, which cost us around £3,000.
The ceiling tiles in the main hall were also made of asbestos. The Management Survey came back very positive, saying that the asbestos was managed well and was not a risk to worshippers unless disturbed. However, a number of years ago a lighting rig was installed in the church and was secured on wires through the ceiling. Every year, we needed to conduct a safety check on the wires to make sure they are still in a good condition. We waited until the survey gave us the all-clear to go up and view the wires. In the process of checking the wires, one of our willing volunteers accidentally slipped off the safety boards in the roof space and put his hand through one of the asbestos tiles!
Immediately we had to seal off the main hall and relocate some of our larger meetings to other churches or other halls in the building. Whenever asbestos is discovered as a health risk, there is always a mandatory two week wait, before any work could commence. We were therefore kept out of the main hall for four weeks, which affected a special weekend of ministry we had planned with Jarrod Cooper.
We could have just replaced the one tile that broke and commissioned an environmental clean but we decided, as a church council, to remove all the asbestos tiles around the lighting rig and completely board out the roof space, to ensure that this could not happen again. To remove the asbestos tiles, do a full environmental clean and replace the tiles with plasterboard cost a further £8,000. We have a very good insurance policy, but unfortunately the insurers were unwilling to cover the cost of the asbestos removal.
Looking back, if we had employed a professional to do the maintenance on the lighting rig, then if they had caused the damage, we could have claimed off their business insurance. So here were are as a church, £11,000 poorer but safe in the knowledge that the people who both attend and serve in the church are safe from any further exposure to asbestos. The good news is that on Sunday December 13, 2015, after long hours of work by our volunteers, we managed to get back into the main hall for our Community Carol service. A choir from the local Down's Syndrome Association and the Town Mayor were involved in a special night of celebration, along with almost 300 people in the congregation.
Pastor Adrian Dexter (Mth, Rbm)
(Mth - Master of Theology)
(Rbm - Reluctant Buildings Manager)
Health and Safety is an important part of everyday life, whether at home, work or in church buildings. It affects all places of worship regardless of size and circumstance. The main aim of Health & Safety is to prevent harm to people, including employees, volunteers, church members and the public.