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New asbestos danger as the government redevelops brownfield sites

It is the government’s intention to develop brownfield sites around the UK in an attempt to ease the housing situation. The Chartered Institute of Building reports that during the next five years, it is likely that construction of new housing will take place on these sites.

Brownfield sites are areas that have previously been used for commercial or industrial buildings, and as such, present a high risk of contamination from the nature of the work that took place there, or from the building demolition process.

Asbestos buried in soils and underground can have the same dangerous impact on worker health as that found inside a building. The density and type of soil affects how much asbestos is released into the air, however, with looser sandy soils potentially releasing more dust and fibres than densely packed clay soil types.

Asbestos only banned in 1999

Asbestos was widely used in the construction and shipbuilding industries during the 1950, 1960s and 1970s because of its fire and heat resistance, absorption of sound, and low cost.

Only in 1999 was its use in the UK building industry banned, but its extremely wide usage has resulted in many cases of aggressive lung cancer, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases caused by historic and current exposure.

Asbestos containing material, or ACM, has been found in brownfield sites around the UK, following poor management of waste and lack of care when industrial buildings were demolished. The end-result is potentially high levels of asbestos within our soil.

Guidance available on the danger of asbestos in soil

CIRIA, the Construction Industry Research and Information Association, has developed a guide to make those involved more aware of the dangers of asbestos in soils. Co-author, Dr Paul Nathanail, said:

“this guide represents a major milestone in our understanding and management of asbestos in soil….. our current state of knowledge allows affordable and pragmatic approaches to be implemented at hundreds of redevelopment sites across the country.”

Soil and made-ground risk assessments are vital to prevent exposure to the substance on commencement of a building project, but particularly so on brownfield sites where industrial materials often pose an inherent risk.

Being aware of the dangers of asbestos is now a legal requirement. The Health and Safety Executive require employers to provide asbestos awareness training to all workers likely to come across the substance in their line of work.

Asbestos Awareness training

Undertaking formal Asbestos awareness courses need not be onerous, however. You simply study whenever is convenient to you thanks to the wide availability of courses that can be taken online.

The initial course certificate, which can be downloaded on successful completion, is valid for 12 months, after which time HSE recommend further ‘top-up’ training often carried out in the workplace.

This type of training not only protects you as a tradesperson, but also your colleagues and members of the public who may be inadvertently exposed to asbestos during the course of your work.