Finding asbestos at work:
If you’re like most people, you probably think of asbestos as a dangerous material that cannot affect you anymore because it was finally banned in 1999. However, asbestos is still present in many commercial and domestic premises throughout the UK and can still be deadly if it is disturbed. So, if you find asbestos, what should you do?
This article will discuss:
- What is asbestos
- The dangers of asbestos
- How to recognise asbestos
- What to do if you discover asbestos
What is asbestos?
Asbestos was once a very popular material for use in construction because of its various properties and uses. There were over 4000 different types of product produced that contained asbestos within the UK between the early 1900s and 1999.
Asbestos is now known to cause serious health problems, such as asbestosis, cancer, and mesothelioma if it is disturbed and breathed in. For this reason, you should avoid the disturbance of asbestos whilst at work.
The dangers of asbestos:
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been commonly used in construction for centuries. However, it was not until the late 1900s that asbestos was recognised as a health hazard. Today, asbestos is known to cause a range of serious diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
According to National Asbestos, asbestos still claims the lives of over 100,000 people each and every year across the globe, with over 5000 of these being in the UK. It has a latency period after initial exposure of between ten and sixty years, this period is the time it may take your body to start showing signs of disease. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognise it, so that you can take the steps to avoid its terrible consequences.
The biggest danger of asbestos is fibres being released from the product and there are three levels of friability (how easily these fibres break off). They can be separated into high, medium, and low risk:
- Loose insulation, sprayed coatings, thermal insulation have high friability
- Asbestos insulating boards, paper, felts, cardboard, textiles and friction products have medium friability
•Cement products, textured coatings, bitumen products, resins, plastics and composites have relatively low friability
How to recognise asbestos:
There are three main colours of asbestos in the UK; white, brown, and blue. It is most commonly found in:
- Ceilings, floor cavities, and loft spaces (loose fill)
- Pipe lagging (as an insulator)
- Floor tiles and textile products
- Cement sheeting
- Rope seals and gaskets
What to do if you discover asbestos:
If you think you’ve found asbestos, you should first clear the working area, put up a warning sign (if possible) so that nobody else enters the area. Report the issue to your manager/building owner/other employees. After this, you will need to engage a contractor to arrange to have a sample of the material analysed to see whether or not the material is indeed asbestos. Nobody should not enter the working area until the results of the analysis have been confirmed.
HSE have a fantastic flowchart that can also be used as a tool to help you manage the process. However, if you would like to speak to one of our health and safety consultants, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We can help guide you through the process.