The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has recently launched a new page on their website with information about asbestos – what it looks like, where it might be found and how you should deal with it.
Here are some of the most important points to consider if you are an employed or self-employed tradesperson, and are likely to come across asbestos in your normal line of work.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally-formed fibrous material commonly used in the UK construction industry until its ban in 1999. Although there are various types of asbestos including blue, brown and white, it was white chrysotile asbestos that was most commonly used due to its fire retardant capacities.
Being mixed with other materials makes it difficult to identify, however, and because you need to deal with varying types of asbestos in different ways, it is imperative that you know exactly what you are dealing with.
How should you handle asbestos?
This depends on your level of training. If you have only had asbestos awareness training, you need to leave it undisturbed and call in either non-licensed or licensed contractors.
Before starting work in a domestic property, you should ask your boss if it has been checked for asbestos. In a non-domestic building you need to find out from the manager whether or not asbestos is present, and its likely whereabouts. This information should be passed on to anyone working for/with you.
In general, when working with asbestos:
- Don’t use power tools, only hand tools
- Wear an appropriate, fitted mask
- Dampen but don’t soak materials
- Once work is complete, take off your overalls before removing the mask
- Put them in an asbestos waste bag and dispose of them correctly
Where is asbestos found?
- Loose-filled loft, wall and floor cavity insulation
- Lagging for pipes
- Ceiling artex
- Water tank in older properties
- External wall claddings
- Internal wall panels
What is the danger?
These are the main diseases caused by exposure to asbestos:
- Mesothelioma: an incurable and aggressive type of cancer that attacks the outer lining of the lungs and abdomen
- Asbestosis: scarring within the lungs which results in them shrinking and causing progressive breathlessness
- Asbestos-related lung cancer: this affects the windpipe and lungs, but can also spread further around the body
- Pleural thickening: the lining of the lung, or pleura, is scarred. It then thickens to cause breathlessness
As a tradesperson you are at greater risk of exposure to asbestos due to the nature of your work. Even small amounts of exposure can be dangerous if it happens frequently over a long period of time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an asbestos survey?
An asbestos survey helps to establish whether or not asbestos is present – it is usually the precursor to a risk assessment and detailed plan of how the work will be managed.
Whose duty is it to manage asbestos?
In commercial buildings, it is the duty of those responsible for maintenance and repair – this could be the owners or occupiers. In the case of owner-occupied domestic properties, there is no legal responsibility for the owner to manage the risks posed to contractors.
Are employers legally obliged to provide asbestos training?
There is a legal requirement for employers to provide the appropriate training to any worker likely to encounter asbestos. Courses include:
- Asbestos awareness (Category A)
- Non-licensable work (Category B)
- Licensable work (Category C)
Asbestos awareness training provides information about how to recognise the substance, and what to do should you come across it.