What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a term used for a number of naturally occurring minerals which have crystallised to form long thin fibres and fibre bundles. Asbestos fibres were widely used for their high tensile strength and chemical, electrical and heat resistance. Unfortunately this also affects the body’s capabilities of breaking the fibres down when inhaled.
There are 6 types of asbestos, the three main types which were imported and used in the UK are Chrysotile: This is a white fibre asbestos and accounts for 90% of asbestos in products. It is a member of the serpentine group. Amosite: This is brown/grey in colour and is straight, unlike Chrysotile which is curly. It belongs to the amphibole group. Finally, Crocidolite: This is blue, and the fibres are also straight. It is also a member of the amphilbole group.
All forms are potentially dangerous and many of the asbestos-containing materials found in buildings include a combination of two or more asbestos types.
If the asbestos material is in good condition and is not disturbed it does not pose a risk to health. However, if disturbed the asbestos fibres can break down into sharp fibres that can be breathed in. If these fibres lodge in the lungs they do not dissolve and can work their way to the outer surface leading to several diseases, some of which are fatal.
The risk of developing asbestos-related disease depends on a number of factors including cumulative dose, time since last exposure and the type and size of asbestos fibres. There is usually a long delay between the first exposure to asbestos fibres and the diagnosis of disease; this ranges from between 15 to as many as 60 years.
Where is asbestos found in buildings?
Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure Asbestos related diseases account for 3500 deaths each year creating the UK’s biggest single cause of work related deaths. The use of asbestos has been banned for some time now. However, much of the material still exists within and around buildings.
This legacy retains the potential to kill those who are unknowingly exposed to the fibres in their day to day work, or those who choose to ignore the controls that provide effective protection during their day to day works, risking not only their lives but anyone who is unlucky enough to be in close proximity.
Disturbing & breathing in asbestos can lead to you developing one of 3 fatal diseases:
Asbestosis – Scarring of the lung leading to shortness of breath
Mesothelioma – Cancer of the lining of the lungs & stomach
THERE IS NO CURE FOR ASBESTOS RELATED DISEASES Although the use and importation of asbestos has been banned by law, there were many thousands of tonnes used to make approximately 3,000 different products, many of which were commonly used in buildings. Much of this is still there and is not easily identified from its appearance so asbestos testing is often required.
What was the most common use of asbestos?
Its most common uses were:
Loose asbestos packing between floors and in partition walls
Sprayed (limpet) asbestos on structural beams and girders
Lagging on pipe work and boilers, calorifiers, heat exchangers, etc
Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) ceiling tiles, partition walls, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shafts linings, fire surrounds, soffits, etc
Asbestos cement products such as roof & wall cladding, bath panels, boiler & incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, water tanks, etc.
Other products such as floor tiles, mastics, sealants, decorative coatings, rope seals & gaskets, millboard, paper products, cloth & bituminous products, etc
How do I know if I am at risk?
There are approximately 3000 asbestos products in the UK. Identification of asbestos materials is not easy, and you can only be sure if asbestos testing is done by a specialist laboratory.
Over the last few years, the level of asbestos-related diseases has risen within the following trades:
Cable Layers & IT installers Roofing contractors
Carpenters & Joiners Plumbers
Painters & Decorators Maintenance staff
Demolition Workers Teachers
Fire/burglar alarm installers
Will the regulation affect me?
If you control or have information about the building, you must co-operate with the duty holder. For instance, landlords must pass on relevant information to new tenants, and leaseholders must allow access for inspection by managing agents. If in doubt asbestos tesing should be done. Over the years the HSC(Health & Safety Committee) and HSE(Health & Safety Executive) have introduced various sets of Regulations that specifically address the risks from working with asbestos.
Earlier Regulations tended to focus on specific industries and processes, but from 1987 the scope of the Regulations were extended to encompass the need to control the risks in most operations where asbestos fibres could be released. Asbestos survey and asbestos testing are key steps to improve safety.
What do the current asbestos Regulations include?
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR)
Lay down the requirements for the protection of people being exposed to asbestos. These Regulations include the requirement for those with responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of non-domestic premises, to identify and manage any risk from asbestos within their premises
The CA Regulations are supported by Approved Codes of Practice and/or guidance that provide advice on how to comply with the legislation. These highight the importance of asbestos testing.
The HSE are looking for organisations to have management systems in place to identify asbestos, assess its condition and unless it is in a poor state of repair, maintain it, so as not to affect the health of any person. If asbestos has to be removed, then all aspects of that work are to be carried out in a manner that ensures there is no risk to exposure.