What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that was used extensively in the construction industry from the 1950s to midway through the 1980s. It is a fibrous material that has been utilised for its insulation and fire-resistant properties. There are a few different types of asbestos which can be divided in numerous ways, but importantly all types of asbestos are highly dangerous. For this reason, distinguishing between the types can be considered futile and all should be treated with care accordingly. Asbestos exposure can cause a multitude of illnesses and should be avoided entirely.
Why Was Asbestos Used and Where Can it be Found?
Asbestos is strong, heat resistant, resistant to many chemicals, insoluble in water and easily to manipulate. When considering these properties, it is easy to appreciate why asbestos was so widely used within the construction industry and beyond. Here are some common uses of asbestos:
- Spray coatings on walls, ceilings and beams
- Insulating boards in fire doors, floors and ceilings
- Textured coatings on walls and ceilings for decoration
- Lagging on boilers and pipework
- Floor tiles and textiles
- In cement on roofs and exterior walls
All UK buildings constructed prior to 2000 could contain asbestos. It is thought that somewhere in excess of 1 million UK buildings currently contain the deadly substance asbestos.
How is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos is a highly dangerous material and carcinogen (substance that can cause cancer in living cells). Sadly, many of its health risks were not recognised until copious amounts of people had already developed the life-limiting and life-threatening complications of exposure. Whilst asbestos is believed to be harmless unless disturbed, it can easily be disturbed through maintenance, refurbishment, installation and demolition works. The fibres are thin and long, meaning that they can easily lodge in your lungs when inhaled. Here they build up and cause repetitive damage. Exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of: lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer affecting the lung lining), pleural disease and asbestosis.
Managing Asbestos Risks
Many of the diseases caused by exposure to asbestos take decades to develop, which sadly means that by the time they present, nothing can be done to address this risk or undo the damage. Due to the considerable health risks of asbestos exposure, a number of legislations are in place to govern its handling:
- The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
Whilst it is a moral duty to protect worker's health, implementation of the aforementioned legislation makes it a legal responsibility too. Managing asbestos can be a complicated ordeal, but through simple training and promotion of asbestos awareness, the necessary steps can be put in place to protect the health of us all.