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Asbestos an ongoing danger in factory buildings

An aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos has recently claimed the lives of two former workers at the same Grimsby factory. The local coroner came to the conclusion that both men died from industrial disease, in this case pleural mesothelioma, which attacks the outer membrane of the lungs.

One of the men, Martin Greenbeck, was 72 when he died. The other victim, Bernard Benton, had been a foreman at the factory, and died at the age of 93. The coroner commented on the extremely long latency period from initial exposure in Mr Benton’s case, saying it was rare for an industrial disease to gestate for such a prolonged period of time.

Long history of asbestos exposure

Both men had been exposed to asbestos throughout their working lives, with Mr Benton being employed at the same factory for 26 years. Originally called Titans, and later Tioxide, the company made offers of compensation to each employee who had been exposed to asbestos.

The company had failed to provide members of staff with protective equipment or clothing, a situation commonly experienced by workers at that time. Awareness of the dangers posed by asbestos fibres was virtually non-existent in the 1960s and 1970s, highlighted by the fact that whenever Titans built a factory, asbestos lagging was reportedly used to insulate the pipe work in each new premises.

Mr Benton’s niece commented on the devastating health implications faced by her uncle having worked in the factory, and the lack of asbestos awareness at the time:

“Then it was not thought to be a worry. He said you could see it (asbestos dust) floating in the air.”

Exposed to asbestos in the factory and the Merchant Navy
Martin Greenbeck had worked as fitter at the Titans factory for four years in the 1960s, and subsequently moved into a career as an engineer in the Merchant Navy. His work in boiler maintenance resulted in considerable and prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres – the dangers of which were increased by the confined space on-board ship.

A prolific use of asbestos by the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy made it impossible for maintenance staff to escape the asbestos dust and fibres that were constantly released. Pipes were lagged with the substance for insulation purposes, and asbestos-containing materials formed a major part of each vessel’s make-up from the 1950s onwards.

Ongoing danger of asbestos in factories

Unfortunately, the considerable risk associated with asbestos exposure in UK factories is not just a historic issue, and still poses a problem to this day. Asbestos was banned in the UK in late 1999, making it highly likely that any factory constructed prior to the ban will contain asbestos in some form.

It was widely used to insulate and fireproof commercial and industrial buildings, and was often found in outdoor and indoor areas including:

  • Lagging for boilers and pipes
  • Sprayed coatings as insulation and fireproofing for ceilings, walls and steel columns
  • Ceiling, wall and floor tiles
  • Partition walling and panels in fire doors
  • Gutters and downpipes
  • Loose fill insulation
  • Asbestos cement roofing, flues and soffits
  • Water tanks and cisterns
  • Rope seals and gaskets
  • Asbestos textiles, such as fire blankets and protective gloves

Regardless of whether a factory building is currently in use, the chances of coming across asbestos remain high. If the substance hasn’t been removed to modern-day standards using licensed contractors, for example, there may be dust and debris lying on floors and other surfaces which can easily become airborne if disturbed.

That is why it’s imperative to conduct asbestos surveys and risk assessments prior to renovating or refurbishing older factory buildings, in order to fully understand the potential for asbestos exposure, and contain the danger as much as possible.

Asbestos surveys for all commercial and industrial premises

Carrying out an asbestos survey to establish whether or not the substance is present is required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012. This practice establishes the whereabouts of asbestos, its current condition, and whether or not a risk is posed to people entering or working in the building.

The ‘duty holder,’ or person responsible for identifying and managing asbestos in a building, must keep a register so that anyone undergoing maintenance work knows where the danger lies.

They are required to keep this register updated on a regular basis to indicate any further degradation of asbestos-containing materials, and make it available for inspection by contractors carrying out works.