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UK firm develops asbestos warning device

The dangers of breathing in airborne asbestos fibres have been well-documented, but a new device which warns of the presence of asbestos in the air is set to mitigate some of these risks when it becomes commercially available.

Alert Technology Ltd of Paignton, South Devon, has developed a portable machine that assesses whether or not asbestos fibres are present in an environment.

This knowledge could save many lives in the future, and tackles the ongoing issue of asbestos exposure for those in a range of industries, including construction, demolition, and maritime.

Asbestos training programmes, including asbestos awareness, ensure that workers have in-depth knowledge of the dangers associated with the substance, but up until now there has been no way of reliably testing for asbestos in real time.

ALERT (Asbestos Locating Equipment in Real Time)

Asbestos ALERT is a hand-held device, making it easily portable between construction and development sites. The fact that results are available in real time is a crucial aspect, considering the delays experienced on-site whilst fibres undergo laboratory-testing.

A laser technique that measures the magnetic properties of each fibre is used to identify asbestos, at a rate of hundreds of particles per second. Industry-specific models are being planned by the company, as well as a smaller tradesperson’s device.

Use of the equipment will enable licensed contractors to be brought in quickly if necessary, and encourage stronger health and safety practices at work. If a warning sounds, workers will be able to evacuate the area, or use appropriate breathing and protective apparatus.

Asbestos exposure a huge legacy issue

Approximately 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos at work, according to World Health Organisation figures. In the UK alone, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that around 20 tradespeople a week are killed by asbestos at work.

The benefits of a monitoring device such as this are, therefore, innumerable. Alongside asbestos awareness training, tradespeople and professionals in the construction industry will have the back-up of reliable alerts as to the condition of their working environment.

Managing Director of ALERT Technology Ltd, Alan Archer, commented:

“A real-time warning device such as Asbestos ALERT could help prevent prolonged, inadvertent exposure – providing users, such as tradesmen, with a vital first line of defence and help to prevent future lives from asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and other related cancers.”

Asbestos in older buildings

Because the use of asbestos was so widespread prior to its ban, we are all at risk of breathing in asbestos. Known to be present in hospitals, schools and libraries, amongst many other non-domestic buildings, it also resides in numerous household products in our homes.

Partition walling, garage roofs, vinyl flooring and old central heating boilers, are just a few of the items that were manufactured using asbestos. Tradespeople are a high-risk group for asbestos exposure, and although it is now compulsory for employers to provide asbestos awareness training to their workers, a warning system such as that provided by ALERT will help to deal with a potentially changing level of risk as they move around a building.

Image of asbestos fibres

By, Public Domain,