Asbestos is a natural mineral made up of several microscopic fibres. There is evidence of its existence and use as early as the Stone Ages, where it is thought to have been used for wicks in lamps and candles.
More recently, during the industrial revolution, it was hailed as the ideal supplement for everyday materials in the construction and automotive industries, due to its ability to add strength and insulation without adding excessive weight. It was commonly used in house building between 1930 and 1950 when its popularity peaked.
However, despite its benefits to these industries, asbestos posed and continues to pose many health risks to humans and can lead to fatal diseases such as cancer, lung disease and other respiratory illnesses.
Due to these risks to human life, asbestos use has been heavily regulated in many countries since the 1970s and was eventually banned entirely in the UK in 1999.
Despite this ban, asbestos continues to prove a threat today, due to its existence in homes – any home built before 2000 is thought to likely contain some asbestos.
Therefore, workers in industries likely to come in contact with asbestos must be aware of the risks and precautions required to protect themselves.
This article looks at the risks of Asbestos.
The risks of Asbestos
There have been health concerns about asbestos exposure as early as 1898, when a Home Office factory inspector, Lucy Deane, wrote a report that noted asbestos ‘easily demonstrated’ health risks. However, this warning was largely ignored or denied by medical professionals for years. It was not until 1924 that there was any real degree of acceptance of the health risks associated with exposure and how it could impact human life.
Workers of certain professions have a higher risk of asbestos exposure. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Heating and ventilation engineers;
Due to the heightened risk for these professions, and others, there are strict rules about what employers must provide for their workers:
- Employers have a ‘duty to manage’ asbestos, which means, if there is a risk of its presence in a building that is to be worked in, a full assessment must be carried out to determine what type of asbestos it is and in what condition;
- Employers must understand, due to the type and condition of the asbestos present, what precautions are required, or whether the work should go ahead as planned at all;
- If the work is to go ahead, it should be identified whether a licensed contractor should carry it out;
- If the work does not require a licensed contractor, it may still need to be notified to the respective authorities;
- All employees who are likely to come into contact with asbestos must receive suitable training in order to protect themselves and their co-workers;
It is important to note that asbestos only poses a risk when it is disturbed. Due to this, the official advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), should you suspect the presence of asbestos in your home, is to leave it where it is if it is in good condition.
It is only when the asbestos is damaged, releasing the microscopic fibres into the air, that it becomes dangerous. This is because these fibres can be inhaled and become attached to one’s lungs. Some of the serious diseases that can be caused by exposure are;
- Mesothelioma – a fatal cancer, almost exclusively caused by exposure, that affects the lining of the lungs and lower digestive tract;
- Asbestosis – a scarring of the lung that is caused by heavy, and prolonged, exposure to the material. This condition causes shortness of breath and can be fatal in extreme cases;
- Plural thickening – a thickening and swelling of the lining of the lung that can lead to shortness of breath and chest pain;
An added complication of asbestos-related conditions is that their symptoms can sometimes take years, or even decades to show, meaning that the conditions can go undetected. For instance, workers who contracted these conditions in the 1970s may only be learning of their presence today.
It is estimated that 13 people die daily in the UK from asbestos-related conditions.
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
Due to the European Commission’s view that the UK was not fully compliant with an earlier EU Directive on exposure, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, came into force on 6th April 2012. These regulations added further requirements to the pre-existing ones, such as:
- Non-licensed work, under certain conditions, require notification to a relevant authority;
- Written records must be kept of non-licensed work, such as a list of workers on the job and the likelihood of asbestos exposure;
- All workers doing non-licensed work must be under health surveillance by a Doctor;
The enforcement of these regulations is carried out by the HSE, Local Authorities (LA) and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
- LAs are responsible for retailing, warehousing, wholesale distribution, hotel and catering premises;
- ORR is responsible for rail premises;
- HSE is the overall authority and may step in when premises, ordinarily enforced by LAs or ORR, become involved in extensive building or construction work;
Any violations of the regulations can result in license holders having their licenses revoked. In any event, any enforcement action taken against license holders will come into consideration for future licence applications or renewal interviews.
We also offer other construction based training ranging from general Health and Safety Awareness to regulated courses such as NEBOSH Certificate in Construction Health and Safety.
A full list of Construction safety courses can be found here – Construction Safety Courses
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HSE (Health and Safety Executive): Asbestos Health and Safety – https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/