Whether you’re a self-employed tradesperson, a professional in charge of a training crew, or are involved in managing works in buildings, you’ need to prepare yourself in the event you encounter or disturb asbestos.
General awareness about asbestos — as well as knowledge about how to accurately spot it– is an important step in successful refurbishment, maintenances and allied trades work in the UK.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a fire, sound, and acid resistant mineral used in building and construction. As such, it was traditionally applied in order to:
- Fire proof and insulate
- Sound proof
- Create tensile strength
Why is asbestos dangerous?
When asbestos in a building becomes damaged or begins to crumble, its fine fibres break off and travel through the air. Asbestos dust exposure is incredibly hazardous when breathed into the lungs, as all types of asbestos have been linked to asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos comes in multiple forms. The three most commonly types of asbestos that you can find in the UK are:
- Chrysotile, or white asbestos
- Crocidolite, or blue asbestos
- Amosite, or brown asbestos
Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, is the most dangerous of these three types since it contains the finest fibres. Crocidolite is extremely brittle and splinters easily. As a result, these fibres travel through the air and can be inhaled.
Chrysotile, or white asbestos, is the most commonly used form of asbestos. While not as dangerous as the other forms of asbestos, chrysotile is still unsafe and classified as a carcinogen.
Asbestos awareness is extremely important, as maintenance, refurbishment, and construction work of any kind may release asbestos fibres from ceilings, roofs, and exterior walls. In the event that it’s improperly handled, asbestos inhalation can cause a number of different asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, an asbestos-related lung cancer.
While many studies state that it may take less exposure to blue asbestos than white asbestos to cause fatal illnesses like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, all forms of asbestos are considered category 1 carcinogens. There are currently no cures for conditions caused by asbestos inhalation.
Shockingly, studies conducted by the British government have indicated a sharp increase of annual deaths in Britain due to mesothelioma, with about 2,500 deaths every year in the current decade.
Where should you look for asbestos?
For nearly two decades, it has been illegal to use asbestos-containing materials. However, you might encounter this unwanted material in buildings constructed before 1999.
Let’s look at some of the places where you should pay close attention:
- Insulation (around boilers, pipes, fireplaces, and ducts)
- Ceilings and floor cavities
- Sprayed coating (on concrete or steel surfaces)
- Lifts and stairwells
- Vertical columns
- Ceiling tiles
- Partition walls
- Exterior walls, roofs, and gutters
Asbestos may be found in many of the common materials that were used in construction, so you may come across it in almost any part of a building. However, there are materials which are unlikely to contain asbestos, including:
Though you may read that mortar, brick, and concrete are free from asbestos, this is not necessarily true. Be mindful of chimneys, as asbestos bricks were extremely popular and useful for fire resistance. In the first half of the 20th century, amphibole and chrysotile were pulverised and included into mortar compounds to prevent fire and water damage. Some concrete was mixed with asbestos to prevent cracking in foundations. The material was as strong as regular concrete, but lighter in weight.
What happens if I encounter asbestos?
Due to the presence of asbestos in many homes and buildings, there are steps one can take to limit dangers. Remember: if you do encounter asbestos, health organizations strongly recommend you cease all work.
- In order to identify any potential asbestos threats, first look for any previous records of asbestos materials, especially if the building was constructed before 2000. Speak with previous owners, management, the builders or architect, and take some time to look over the Asbestos Register. It’s important to remember that very few asbestos registers are complete, so don’t rely completely on this information.
- If you encounter asbestos during the course of your work, stop work and evacuate the area. Seal off said area if possible, and warn others nearby. Remove contaminated work clothing and tools in a safe location, such as a car park.
- Contact the management/safety department. Do not go back into any building to avoid contamination via asbestos fibres.
- Check your local health office for a list of certified professionals who use disposable clothing, respirators and HEPA vacuums during asbestos disposal procedures.
Asbestos-based material in good, working condition is typically safe. In some cases, such material can be isolated rather than removed. Asbestos removal, however, is the only lasting solution to the problem. If you suspect asbestos in your home, hire a professional to assess and take samples to a certified, asbestos-testing lab.
Where can I take an asbestos awareness training course?
To fulfill legal asbestos awareness requirements, choose a course that fully prepares you and your employees. Bainbridge E-Learning’s Asbestos Awareness Training course offers flexible, comprehensive options in either classroom or online availabilities. With excellent recommendations and discounts for multiple purchases, Bainbridge E-Learning’s 30 years of experience comes with UKATA (United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association) accreditation.
There’s no better time to sign up for asbestos awareness training!