Asbestos poses a serious risk to human health, especially those in construction based roles. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What is it?
Asbestos is a name for a group of silicate mineral fibres found naturally in soil and rock. Made up primarily from silicon and oxygen, it is mined from the ground and then undergoes a process of manufacturing in order to make it useful for a number of practical applications.
What’s so special about it?
It was once dubbed the ‘miracle mineral’ for it’s highly useful properties, particularly in construction. It’v very heat resistant, extremely strong and durable, non flammable, and electrical resistant. It can be subdivided into fine fibres that are strong enough and flexible enough to be spun into material that is a flame retardant, chemically inert thermal and electrical insulator. Note that asbestos binds with better insulating materials to create the ultimate construction materials.
What’s the problem then?
The same reasons that make asbestos so useful in industry, can make it fatal. When it’s disturbed it can become airborne and being so small is easily inhaled. Many of the fibres will become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they can then be removed, but some may pass deep into the lungs, or, if swallowed, into the digestive tract. Once trapped in the body the asbestos hardy nature means the body cannot break down the fibre or remove them and the fibres cause disease.
What health affects can be seen?
There are three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure:
- Lung Cancer
Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibres aggravate lung tissues, which cause them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages, the disease may cause cardiac failure.
There is no effective treatment for asbestosis, the disease is usually disabling or fatal.
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. Symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anaemia.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos exposure.
Where is asbestos found?
The fibre was regularly used in construction and industry from the 1950s until the late 1990s. In 1999 it was banned in the UK.
As a result it’s still found in many of today’s buildings, domestic and non-domestic premises. It was used in products for insulation, fire proofing, coating etc. It was often mixed in with other building products like cement.
Some areas to look out for asbestos include:
- Ceiling and roof tiles
- Pipe insulation
- Window frames and panels
- Toilet cisterns
- Vinyl flooring and adhesive
How should I handle it?
The fibre is most dangerous when disturbed as this gives it the chance to become airborne, if you don’t have the correct training, equipment and procedure in place do not disturb asbestos. You must be a licensed contractor to remove certain types of asbestos.
If the building was built prior to 2000 make efforts to find out whether it contains asbestos containing products. Do not start work until you’re sure.
If you need to work with asbestos, make sure that you:
- Use hand tools – not power tools
- Keep materials damp – not too wet
- Wear a properly fitted, suitable mask (eg. disposable FFP3 type). An ordinary dust mask will not be effective
- Don’t smoke, eat or drink in the work area
- Double-bag asbestos waste and label the bags properly
- Clean up as you go – use a special (Class H) vacuum cleaner, not a brush
- After work, wipe down your overalls with a damp rag or wear disposable overalls (Type 5)
- Always remove overalls before removing your mask
- Don’t take overalls home to wash
- Wear boots without laces or disposable boot covers
- Put disposable clothing items in asbestos waste bags and dispose of them properly
- Don’t carry asbestos into your car or home
(guidance taken from www.ukata.org.uk)
What is required of you by law?
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations. Before you start any work in a building that might contain asbestos (eg built or refurbished before the year 2000), you need to do the following:
- Identify whether asbestos is present and determine its type and condition
- Carry out a risk assessment
- Decide if the work needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor
- If the work is not licensed, decide if the work needs to be notified.
- Ensure those carrying out the work are suitably trained.
For more information on this please refer to the HSE website.
We deliver Asbestos Awareness training courses at our site in South Liverpool roughly every 6 weeks. For the latest dates please see our events calendar or contact us.