Exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to serious illness and even death. Asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999. However, it is still present in many buildings, so it is important to understand the risks and the legal requirements.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is resistant to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion. It is used for insulation and can be mixed with other materials to make them stronger. Common uses for asbestos include pipe lagging, floor tiles, roofing, fire blankets and panelling.
Asbestos may be found in any building that was constructed or refurbished before the year 2000. This includes residential dwellings, commercial buildings, schools and hospitals. There are legal duties relating to asbestos, which are set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and related guidance.
When Does Asbestos Become Dangerous?
Asbestos becomes dangerous when its fibres are released into the air and inhaled. This can happen when material containing asbestos is disturbed, such as when carrying out repair or renovation work. As such, the groups most at risk from long-term exposure to the fibres are contractors and other tradespeople. However, other activity, such as water damage and ageing can also cause the fibres to be released.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, asbestos causes around 5,000 deaths per year. These deaths often occur decades after exposure. The inhaled fibres can remain in the lungs, potentially leading to such diseases as mesothelioma (a type of cancer), asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis (a serious scarring condition of the lung) and pleural thickening (a condition that causes the lung lining to thicken and swell).
If you come into contact with materials that contain asbestos, are a duty holder, or work in an environment in which asbestos may be present, consider taking UK Commercial Group’s Asbestos Awareness training course. This will ensure you are up-to-date with the legal compliance issues, as well as the health and safety implications.