Is Asbestos Really Still a Risk?
Asbestos is still an ever-present danger but for many, they do not believe they will be affected by it and, therefore, do not take the necessary precautions when working in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000 (which is where Asbestos can be found). However, the most recent HSE statistics show that 12,000 lung disease deaths estimated to be linked to past exposures at work occur each year and 20% of these are due to Asbestos-related lung cancer. There is still a chance that asbestos can be present in buildings built or refurbished before the year 2000 and any workers involved in refurbishment, maintenance and other similar trades, could be at risk of exposure to asbestos during their work.
Asbestos ‘The Hidden Killer’
The Health and Safety Executive’s campaign has created a campaign called ‘Asbestos – the hidden killer’ which is aimed at young tradesmen, who know that asbestos is dangerous but don’t believe they are at risk. As part of this, they shared case studies of people who have sadly died due to asbestos-related diseases.
Graham Ansell was a husband and father of three from Horsham, West Sussex, when he died in 2007 aged just 48 from mesothelioma.
Graham became an apprentice carpenter when he was 16 years old and some of his work involved cutting up the asbestos-containing asbestolux boards and working in roofs where chimneys were sometimes demolished. Following this he joined another company and was involved with the major refurbishment of a large bank in London. There, Graham had to drill into ceilings and cut and install fireproof doors. It is believed that during these years Graham was exposed to asbestos.
At the time of his apprenticeship, Graham was never told of the risks of asbestos. He never wore protective clothing or took safety precautions because he was not aware of the risks.
In April 2006 Graham went to the doctor with symptoms of a mild cough and breathlessness so it came as a massive shock in July when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He was told he only had 10 per cent use of the affected lung and had several litres of fluid drained before starting a course of chemotherapy. After an operation in December 2006 to try and remove the affected lung, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to the chest wall so the surgery could not be completed. Although he recovered from the surgery it was too late as the disease had already taken hold and he was never well enough for further chemotherapy.
Graham tragically died in April 2007, a few days before his 49th birthday and just weeks before his and Mandy’s 26th Wedding Anniversary.
How Can It Harm You?
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. When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases such as the following:
- Mesothelioma – a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.
- Asbestos-related lung cancer – Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
- Asbestosis – Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.
Preventing The Danger
Make sure you work safely by taking appropriate precautions when carrying out any work that could disturb asbestos.
- stop work and speak to your employer, or the building owner if you are suspicious something may be asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor
- follow the plan of work and the essentials guidance sheets; make sure you use the right sheet for the job
- make sure you take account of other risks such as work at height
- use your protective equipment, including a suitable face mask, worn properly
- clean up as you go – stop waste building up
- make sure waste is double-bagged and is disposed of properly at a licensed tip
- wash before breaks and before going home
- use methods that create a lot of dust, like using power tools
- sweep up dust and debris – use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags
- take home overalls used for asbestos work
- reuse disposable clothing or masks
- eat or drink in the work area
If you need to refresh your workforce’s general knowledge of Asbestos Procedures, our Asbestos In The Workplace toolbox talk is a great place to start.
Asbestos awareness training is mandatory for anyone whose role brings them into potential contact with asbestos. WA Management’s Asbestos Awareness online training course is an affordable and accessible option to make your workers are competent. For this month only you can get 10% off this course, as well as our COSHH (RoSPA Accredited) online training course, with the code ‘asbestos10’!