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What You Need to Know About Working With Asbestos

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 1 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Working With Asbestos Asbestos Health

People who have been exposed to working with asbestos over recent decades has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths in the UK each year as a result of an asbestos related illness. Exposure to it can result in pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other lung disorders as a result of asbestos fibres which have been inhaled into the lungs and which have remained there over many years. Asbestos can be categorised into different types but all forms are dangerous.

Who is Most at Risk?

Although building materials have been improved over recent times and asbestos is no longer used in construction, any property which was built or refurbished before the year 2000 still has the potential to contain asbestos.

Therefore, whilst people who work or have worked in building construction or building maintenance have become synonymous with the damage to health that asbestos presents, even a home DIY enthusiast can fall victim if they carry out any activity which disturbs asbestos fibres. This would include any drilling, cutting, sanding close to asbestos or asbestos removal. Therefore, providing it is in good condition and left undisturbed, it is unlikely to present any health risks.

Where is Asbestos Found?

Many people wrongly assume that asbestos is only found in the insulation material found in places such as in lofts of houses and locations within commercial buildings where insulation can be found. Whilst it’s true that this is one of the more commonly used applications for asbestos, it can also be found in cement form used on certain types of roof panels and in the likes of pipes, guttering and water tanks.

Additionally, it can be present in cases where it has been used for things like adding fire protective qualities to structured steel and in places where provision has been made for either acoustic or thermal insulation and it can also be present in some textured coatings and paints.

What Legislation is There to Protect Workers?

Employers are legally bound to protect their staff when it comes to asbestos and this is governed by the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1992. Within this legislation, employers are obliged to carry out a full risk assessment with regards to the presence of asbestos in a building and to prepare a report of the presence, location and condition of all asbestos related materials which are present on the premises.

They must ensure that exposure to asbestos is prevented or, at the very least, reduced to the lowest practical level to ensure the health and safety of staff. If asbestos needs to be repaired or removed from the premises due to it being damaged, then a company should appoint a specialist which deals with this to carry it out. Although this isn’t mandatory, a company could be putting itself at risk by undetaking the work themselves and this could prove very costly in terms of both putting employees’ health at risk - not to mention the possible cost of facing litigation.

Good Practice

Even if the asbestos is in good condition, a company must have a plan in place as to how it’s going to manage any potential risks from the presence of asbestos. As much information should be recorded about the various locations, amounts and the condition of the asbestos and it’s also necessary to assess risk in terms of the proximity of it to where people are working and whether or not it has the potential to be disturbed. If it’s decided that the asbestos is in a good enough condition to be left where it is and that it’s not going to be disturbed then it’s important that the company monitors its condition on a regular basis.

However, asbestos can be a killer and it can often take years for potential health problems associated with it to manifest themselves so, if you’re in any doubt about the exact presence or condition of all asbestos in your premises, it is far better to bring in an asbestos removal specialist to assess the situation.

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