Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material which has been used extensively in the construction industry for the past 150 years and can be found all around us. Asbestos has a collection of highly useful properties which made it well suited to use in the construction industry and beyond. Properties include: fire resistance, insulation, resistance to many chemicals, strength, insolubility in water, no odour and easy manipulation. At the time that asbestos was so widely used, people were unaware of the numerous health risks that it posed. Inhalation of asbestos fibres has subsequently been linked to the development of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare and very serious cancer of the lung lining), asbestosis and pleural disease. Sadly, these diseases can be life-limiting and even life-threatening in many cases. Due to the discovery of its dangers, asbestos handling is now governed by a series of legislations within the UK. Prompt identification and safe management of asbestos is crucial to legal compliance and protecting workers.
Where Can you Find Asbestos?
Asbestos use was banned in 1999 in the UK. Any industrial or commercial building that was built prior to 2000 may contain asbestos. Due to its diverse range of properties, asbestos can be found in a large array of materials and products. A few common culprits are listed below.
Insulation boards and lagging
Brake pads and lining
Irons and ironing board covers
Siding and wallboards
Floor tiles and textiles
Spray coatings for walls, ceilings and beams
Decorative textured coatings for ceilings and walls
Which Occupations are at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos fibres are believed to be harmless unless they are disturbed. However, once disturbed the fibres can be inhaled and become lodged deep within the lungs, where they begin to cause repeated damage and inflammation. Therefore, those who are more likely to disturb asbestos have a higher chance of being exposed to the free fibres and suffering its numerous health complications. Workers in the following occupations are amongst those at a higher risk of exposure to asbestos:
- Construction and demolition contractors
- Carpenters and joiners
- Electricians and gas fitters
- Alarm installers
- Painters and decorators
- Shipyard workers
Additionally, it is important to note that this asbestos exposure risk is not confined to the workers alone, but also extends to their families. This is through the carriage of asbestos fibres home on their uniforms which facilitates inhalation by their families.
Why is it Important to Handle Asbestos Safely?
More than 5000 people each year lose their lives to asbestos-related diseases in the UK. This figure alone highlights the tremendous importance of preventing asbestos exposure and minimising this tragic suffering and loss of life. The first step in combatting asbestos exposure is identifying asbestos in materials and buildings. Considering the vast array products and materials that contain asbestos, this can be a troublesome task! However, simple asbestos training can help equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to identify asbestos and begin to manage it more safely.