Although asbestos can severely damage our lungs if inhaled, it was a common substance used between the 1950s–80s due to the many structural advantages it gave. These include its excellent tensile strength, resistance to chemical attacks, and its inability to conduct heat. Although the use of asbestos has been banned in numerous places around the world, the UK being one of them, it is still present in many older buildings and structures that exist today.
Although now we have more knowledge about the dangers of asbestos that we lacked several decades ago, naturally when being in the vicinity of structures that contain these fibres, we risk exposure to them.
With this said, we discuss the top three hazards that are commonly associated with asbestos and how to prevent exposure to them.
Hazard 1: accidentally disturbing asbestos
Whether this is done by accident or intentionally, disturbing asbestos is a hazard that could have severe implications on your health in the years to come. Since asbestos particles cling onto your alveoli when inhaled, when it is disturbed, you risk breathing in the tiny fibres that are released, ultimately causing scarring to your lungs.
A common concern associated with disturbing asbestos is when this hazard could possibly become a problem. In short, asbestos disturbance has the potential to happen anywhere, since buildings that were constructed before the 2000s are quite likely to contain asbestos fibres. When refurbishing or working on the likes of ceilings, insulation, doors, panels, walls, and floors, you risk disturbing asbestos.
Hazard 2: removing asbestos illegally
Not only does the removal of asbestos illegally pose threat to everyone involved, but it is also a hazard to those that will occupy the building or structure after it has been completed. Although hiring a specialist to conduct an asbestos survey to check for fibres may add to your costs, it is not something that can be avoided.
Other than the physical threats it poses of removing asbestos illegally, the legal matters are also an issue. If you’re in charge of a structural or construction project and fail to hire a contractor to remove asbestos, you breach the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 act. As a result, legal punishments such as extreme fines and potential sentences by the courts can be issued.
Hazard 3: ignoring short-term precautions
To help prevent the disturbance of asbestos, there are some short-term safety precautions should be followed. There are many ways that asbestos can become hazardous if not dealt with correctly in the short-term. For example, using dry cleaning techniques such as dusting or sweeping could cause asbestos to become airborne. On the other hand, forgetting to spray surfaces with water in order to prevent fibres from becoming airborne can also pose as a hazard.
Who is most at risk of asbestos exposure?
Since asbestos was used in the construction of buildings, those that work within this industry are most likely to be exposed to asbestos due to the nature of their work. In addition to this, those that work in the engineering and automobiles industry could also have been exposed to asbestos previously, since asbestos was also used in the likes of boilers, pipework, clutches, and brake pads in vehicles before the 80s.
For those that work within any of the above-mentioned industries and hold occupancies such as a carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, shipbuilder, railway engineering, or builder, then ensuring all the potential hazards of asbestos are taken seriously is vital.
Preventing exposure to asbestos: the need-to-knows
As previously mentioned, the effects of inhaling asbestos may not impact you right now, but in the years to come this can lead to many health conditions—including asbestosis and lung and mesothelioma cancers.
However, if asbestos is handled correctly and is safely managed and contained, the hazards associated with asbestos can be prevented. To prevent exposure to asbestos, the following health and safety measures should be followed:
- Identify if asbestos is present. If your job is to conduct maintenance work on non-domestic premises, then you have a duty to check for asbestos fibres in building structures. It is always best to assume there is asbestos present in old buildings until you know otherwise and should have the premises surveyed and analysed to be sure.
- Conduct a risk assessment. If asbestos is present, determine who could potentially be at risk to exposure to it and if avoiding the disturbance of the fibres is possible. If a licensed contractor that specialises in asbestos surveying is required, then it is essential they are contacted before getting to work.
- Provide training to all those involved. You as a business must provide adequate asbestos health and safety training needed to employees.
- Follow all advice provided. If asbestos is present, a guidance sheet should be provided, and it is vital this is not ignored.
- Always use PPE. For those in charge of the job, you must always provide the correct PPE to your staff to ensure their safety. Not only that, the correct decontamination process of all equipment, tools and PPE should be conducted.
- Safely dispose asbestos waste. It’s vital that the disposal of asbestos is taken seriously, and any waste is double bagged and discarded at a licensed tip.
If dealt with correctly, the risks of asbestos exposure can be minimised. With this said, it’s important that all the potential hazards associated with asbestos are assessed and the correct health and safety measures are followed. For those working in an occupation that naturally increases the risk of asbestos exposure, determining whether you’re likely to come into contact with these fibres is essential before any work is conducted.