Why is Asbestos a Problem?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals. It can come in several types; however, the following are the most common types used within the industry:
- Chrysotile (White)
- Crocidolite (Blue)
- Amosite (Brown)
Asbestos has been widely used in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s predominantly in construction but also in other industries such as manufacturing, the textile industry and as engineering components. Any building built before 2000 can contain asbestos.
The location of asbestos and its identification can be difficult, since its appearance may be changed by surface coatings, such as paint or through the application of heat, making it hard and brittle. If asbestos-containing material is intact and in a position where it cannot easily be damaged, it will not pose a risk to health by releasing fibres into the air.
There are approximately 5000 deaths a year due to asbestos-related diseases, with this due to increase to 10,000 by 2020. Asbestos kills more people in the UK than road accidents do, so it is incredibly important that workers are aware of asbestos, as it can be detrimental to health.
Where Will You Find Asbestos?
Insulation and sprayed coatings used for:
- Boilers, plant and pipework hidden in underfloor ducting.
- Fire protection to steelwork, hidden behind false ceilings.
- Thermal and acoustic insulation of buildings.
- Some textured coatings and paints.
- Friction materials such as brake linings and clutch plates.
- Gaskets and packings in engines, heating and ventilation systems.
Insulating boards used in the following places:
- Fire protection to doors, protected exits and steelwork.
- Cladding on walls and ceilings.
- Internal walls, partitions and suspended ceiling tiles.
Asbestos cement, which is found as:
- Corrugated roofing and cladding sheets of buildings.
- Flat sheets for partitions, cladding and door facings.
- Rainwater gutters and downpipes.
How Asbestos can affect you:
- Asbestos breaks into tiny, long, sharp fibres. They can get lodged and scar the lungs, causing asbestosis or fibrosis.
- Asbestos fibres may also cause a form of lung cancer.
- It can also cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the inner lining of the chest wall. This cancer is incurable.
- Smokers are at much greater risk of asbestos-related diseases.
- Anyone working on building repair and refurbishment are considered most at risk.
- Old buildings constructed in the 1950s and 60s may have many forms of asbestos-containing materials used in them.
- The removal of roofing felts, old floor tiles, textured paints and plasters containing asbestos can be hazardous.
- It is not easy to tell asbestos from how it looks; it needs to be properly identified in a specialist laboratory.
- If you think you have come across asbestos, stop work and tell your supervisor or foreman.
What Can You Do To Protect Yourself?
- Request the asbestos register or survey result before starting work
- Stop and ask if you are suspicious something may be asbestos
- Isolate the area and make others aware
- If in your induction asbestos isn’t mentioned, ask the question!
What Should Those in Charge of the Job Do?
- Find out if asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials if possible.
- Ensure that anyone who is going to work on asbestos material is trained properly and is supervised.
- Know what work can be carried out on asbestos-containing materials i.e. does this work need to carried out by a contractor licensed by HSE.
- Prepare a plan of work, explaining whether the job involves, the work procedures and what controls to use.
- Provide the right equipment, which is clean, in good working order and protects you against asbestos – this should also include training.
- Plan for the safe disposal of any asbestos waste.
REMEMBER IF YOU SUSPECT ASBESTOS, STOP WORK IMMEDIATELY AND TELL YOUR SUPERVISOR
Employee Understanding and Compliance
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Need further training? Check out our Asbestos Awareness online training course here.