It’s always good to start an article with a fact, so here goes. Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It is estimated that is responsible for around 4,500 deaths a year. It causes four main diseases: mesothelioma (always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (very debilitating if not fatal) and diffuse pleural thickening (non-fatal but very unpleasant). So, ok, we realise that is quite a few facts but you have to admit they are all quite shocking.
The main danger from asbestos comes from the fibres it releases, which are inhaled and cause these serious health concerns. There is a very low level of asbestos fibres in the atmosphere but working in close proximity to it greatly increases your chance of contracting one of the above diseases. And the other terrifying fact is that the problems rarely manifest themselves immediately, with effects being seen often only many years later. So, you need to make sure you are protected fully now.
Where do you find asbestos?
It is important to know where you might come across asbestos in order to avoid it or use proper precautions. It can be found in any building that was built or renovated before 2000. Because of its uses in insulation and fire retardation, it was widely used in construction for many years. Usually if it is left where it is, it should be fine but when it is disturbed it starts to release its fibres into the atmosphere, which can be potentially very dangerous. So, the bottom line is, if you are unsure, then don’t touch it and get professional help.
When working with asbestos do…
Always stop and ask as we have mentioned, as removal needs to be carried out by a trained and licensed contractor. You should always use the proper safety equipment, including a suitable and well-fitting facemask and make sure you wash at breaks and before going home.
All waste should be tidied up and disposed off properly as you go along. Leaving it lying around increases the risk of exposure. Double bag any waste products and dispose of it at licensed tips. You should always ensure you have been properly trained and that the work is notified if required.
When working with asbestos don’t…
Make sure you don’t disturb anything until you are 100% sure what it is. You should not work with anyone who is not properly trained. Never ignore the other risks that often come with working with asbestos, such as working at heights or in confined spaces.
Don’t smoke, eat or drink in the working area. Don’t sweep or dust debris, but use a vacuum cleaner. And also try and avoid using power tools or anything that will create unnecessary dust. It’s also important never to re-use the clothing or masks that you use on the job – they should be disposed of correctly.
Employers should remember that there are very clear legal guidelines about putting staff at risk of asbestos poisoning. You should be aware of these and fully implement any legal requirements or you may be legally responsible for any accidents of injuries that occur.