Asbestos: The Hidden Killer

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Asbestos is a general name given to several naturally occurring minerals that have crystallised to form fibres.

There are 2 sub-groups; serpentine (white asbestos) and amphiboles (including blue and brown asbestos) of which serpentine was the more commonly used.

Amphibole (blue and brown) asbestos is much more hazardous than serpentine (white) asbestos.

Where is it used?

Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000, the importation, supply and use of all asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999; the amphibole type has been banned since 1985.

The properties of asbestos (strong, heat and chemical resistant, doesn’t dissolve in water or evaporate) have allowed it to be used for many functions.

Asbestos is most likely to be present in:

· Sprayed asbestos and asbestos loose packing – historically used as fire breaks in ceiling voids.

· Moulded or pre-formed lagging, generally used in thermal insulation of pipes and boilers;

· Sprayed asbestos- generally used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steel work;

· Insulating boards used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts;

· Some ceiling tiles;

· Millboard, paper and paper products used for insulation of electrical equipment. Asbestos paper has also been used as a fire-proof facing on wood fibreboard;

· Asbestos cement products, which can be fully or semi-compressed into flat or corrugated sheets;

· Certain textured coatings;

· Some bitumen roofing material; and

· Some older vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles.

The Dangers of Asbestos

When in large pieces and undamaged, asbestos is not considered harmful, however when damaged it can release small fibres that can be breathed in or swallowed. This can lead to a condition called asbestosis.

Breathing air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos related diseases, mainly cancers of the lung and chest lining.

There is no cure for asbestos related diseases and there is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease, which can vary from 15 to 60 years.

It is for this reason that asbestos has been classified as carcinogenic to humans.

· Over 5,000 Asbestos-related disease deaths per year currently,

· 2446 including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis Mesothelioma deaths in 2018, with a similar number of lung cancer deaths linked to past exposures to asbestos

· 503 Deaths in 2018 mentioning asbestosis on the death certificate

Working with Asbestos

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires employers to prevent exposure of employees to asbestos. If this is not reasonably practicable the law states that their exposure should be controlled to the lowest possible level.

To comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 there is a requirement to ensure that not only has an Asbestos Survey been undertaken, but where Asbestos Containing Materials are presumed to be present, it is managed.

The asbestos survey will record where the asbestos is located but there is also a

requirement to –

· Prepare a plan that sets out in detail how you are going to manage the risk from this material

· Provide information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it

· Conduct an Annual review of the condition of the asbestos.

Employers Duties

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 now requires employers to manage any asbestos risk within their premises. It is therefore necessary to: –

· Find out if there is asbestos in the premises, identify its location, the amount and its condition;

· Presume that any suspect materials contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence that they do not.

· Make and keep an up to date record of the location and condition of all ACM (or presumed ACMs) in the premises.

· Assess the risk from the material, to employees, building occupants, cleaners, maintenance contractors, etc. Bearing in mind that the risk of exposure will normally only exist if the ACM is disturbed or is damaged

· Preparing a plan that sets out in detail how the risk from this material will be managed, particularly during maintenance.

· Take the steps needed to put the plan into action

· Review and monitor the plan and the arrangements made to put it in place.

· Provide information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it

· ensure that any employee employed by that employer is given adequate information, instruction and training.

· Ensure Risk Assessments are in place for any work involving exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos Training – who needs what?

If you have to carry out work which may disturb asbestos-containing materials, you must:

· prevent exposure to asbestos fibres, or where this is not reasonably practicable

· reduce any exposure to as low as reasonably practicable by using appropriate control measures and having management systems in place

Training is generally split into three categories, which helps you identify which is most suitable:

· Asbestos Awareness Training (Category A) – designed for people who do not directly work with asbestos-containing materials, but who may be exposed to risks. It focuses on making workers aware of how to avoid the risks and avoid potentially disturbing asbestos. (Construction and demolition workers, Plumbers, Roofers)

· Non-Licensed Asbestos Training (Category B) – Non-licensed and notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW) involves directly working with or disturbing asbestos-containing materials in some capacity, this involves more in depth instruction and training. (Drilling holes into asbestos-containing materials).

· Licensed Asbestos Work (Category C) – For high-risk activities that involve working with, disturbing, repairing, and removing asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (as well as supervising these activities) must be carried out by licensed contractors. This again is in further depth than category B training. (Removal or other work which may disturb pipe lagging).

Higher-risk work, such as most asbestos removal, must only be undertaken by a licensed contractor, but any decision on whether particular work is licensable is based on an assessment of the risk.

Eyton Solutions Ltd have recently become one of the first 200 employers to join the IOSH ‘No Time to Lose’ Campaign to tackle work related cancer, to find out more about this or anything relating to Asbestos then please contact us.

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