Guest blogger Clive Searle, sales director at Sussex-based BSW Heating, talks about what asbestos is, its history and dangers, and how to avoid harm if you work with the substance.
Asbestos is a material that was regularly used as a method of insulation for domestic and commercial properties as well as industrial buildings during the earlier 20th century. It was incapable of burning, making it the ideal material to stop households from suffering severe fire damage.
However, it was soon discovered that asbestos had potentially damaging effects on people’s lungs that could result in an unpleasant cough and noticeable shortness of breath. If someone was exposed to asbestos that was gradually deteriorating over a significant period of time or being broken up, drilled or chipped, they were at risk of a disease known as asbestosis.
The difficulty was that symptoms of asbestosis were not apparent until many years after exposure in most cases, so there were many tradesman working alongside the material that were completely unaware of the scarring taking place in their lungs.
Asbestos gained substantial media attention after it was linked to a form of cancer known as mesothelioma. Strict regulations were introduced to avoid workers being exposed to asbestos in the 1970s as a result of the findings.
Asbestos is the name given to a long strip of crystalline fibres that are resistant to heat, chemicals and electricity. With properties such as these, it was concluded that asbestos could potentially be used to great effect in various industries such as insulation, railway, shipbuilding, construction, electricity and more.
Three different types of asbestos were introduced into these industries, including crocidolite (blue asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos) and chrysotile (white asbestos). The most common of these was chrysotile, which was used up until 1999 when it was officially banned in the UK.
Blue and brown asbestos are far more dangerous than white asbestos and were banned in the 1980s. Neither blue nor brown asbestos could be imported into the UK after the asbestos regulations were introduced in 1970. People who have or may suffer in the future from asbestosis are entitled to compensation for working amongst the materials in the past.
The threat of asbestos has been widely reported across the UK since the regulations were first introduced. Around 4,000 workers a year die from past exposure to asbestos and asbestos-related diseases are by some distance the main cause of work-related deaths. Campaigns have been set up to support workers who have suffered from diseases associated with handling asbestos.
Asbestosis and other serious asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma are not yet curable, meaning that almost all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases will have to live with it for the rest of their lives. Asbestos is often referred to as “the hidden killer” due to the fact that so many workers are oblivious to the threat it poses to their health.
The most worrying fact of all is that many old buildings that require construction work still contain asbestos, meaning that there are still workers today being exposed to the dangerous material despite its ban. Thankfully, tradesmen are now given specialist training to identify asbestos and deal with it appropriately.
It is essential for anyone who believes they may be at risk from the presence of asbestos in their home or working environment to get in touch with a specialist asbestos removal team. You can also get in touch with campaign groups to receive detailed information and assistance regarding the steps you should take. By reading up on asbestos, what it looks like and where it may be present, you can make an informed, accurate assumption and realise when professional assistance may be necessary.
Workers who are at risk of being exposed to asbestos or believe they may have worked with it in the past will benefit from the following set of guidelines:
You should never be forced to work somewhere where asbestos may be present. You are fully entitled not to start working on a project you believe may be contaminated with asbestos-related materials.
Whoever assigned you the job, whether it’s the customer or your boss, should always make you aware of asbestos before you start a project. Ultimately, it is advised that you avoid asbestos wherever possible.
Be aware of its forms
There are different types of asbestos as mentioned above. Some of these types of asbestos were best suited to certain parts of a property, such as the plumbing and insulation areas.
You should not work on any asbestos materials at any time without the correct training but it is essential that you do not approach asbestos products that come in the form of spray coating, lagging or
boards. Some types of asbestos are more dangerous than others and require the attention of licensed contractors.
Asbestos training required
If you have asbestos training you can continue to work but it is vital that you do this only if you have the correct training. Simple advice or information is not enough as specialist training is required to identify certain materials and approach them in the correct way.
Always wear the correct clothing
You MUST wear the correct clothing and equipment when dealing with asbestos, which includes a specific asbestos protection mask and NOT a standard dust mask.
Hand tools instead of power tools
When working on asbestos, be sure to stick with hand tools rather than power tools to reduce the amount of asbestos dust produced. Use a specialist vacuum to clean as you go as well as asbestos waste bags that are properly labelled when disposing of the material.