Asbestos: Is It Still A Concern?
Given that asbestos was banned in 1999, we might expect that the dangers of work-related asbestos illnesses have been eliminated, or at least greatly reduced. Sadly, this is far from the case. Asbestos-related illness is still the greatest of workplace threats. It kills more people than any other work-related hazard. The most recent statistics show an annual death toll of over 5,000.
What’s the danger of asbestos?
Asbestos is composed of a mix of half a dozen fibrous minerals. If any building materials containing asbestos get damaged, these fibres will be released into the atmosphere and may be inhaled. This can lead to serious diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. The effect is not immediate, as asbestos-related health issues tend to develop slowly. The real problem is that by the time these diseases are diagnosed, it’s usually too late for any remedy. This is why managing asbestos in the workplace is so important.
Finding asbestos isn’t easy, and will require a survey and careful examination of the content of any materials used in constructing a building, right down to the gaskets. For non-domestic premises, the duty of care for managing asbestos falls on the person who owns or otherwise has control of the building. It’s up to this duty-holder to conduct the surveys and assessments that determine whether there is an asbestos risk. Once a building is known to contain materials with asbestos content, the duty-holder is required to make detailed records of its condition and location. A scrupulous risk assessment must also be carried out, monitored and reviewed.
Where is the threat greatest?
The most common encounter with asbestos occurs in buildings constructed before 1999. Since these are likely to compromise the majority of commercial and industrial premises, it’s very important to comply with the regulations governing asbestos management. Buildings constructed immediately after the 1999 ban must also be included. Some buildings constructed in or just after 2000 may still have asbestos in construction components, especially if they’re imported.
The most common incidence of asbestos is in cement, lagging and the kind of insulated boards that used to be installed for fire-proofing. Asbestos cement is typically made in large sheets, which were used for roofing, soffits and cladding walls. You’ll also find it in flues and downpipes, guttering and drainage pipes, and in the main water tank under your roof. Asbestos Insulating Board was a very common construction material, which you might find in partition walls, soffits, ceiling tiles, fire-door panels and around boilers.
Some buildings also used fire-resistant coatings on walls, ceilings, beams and columns, which were sprayed on and contained asbestos. You might also find some in the lagging around your pipes and boilers, in loose fill insulation or reinforcing your toilet seat and cistern. It was used as reinforcement and fire-proofing in paper, textiles (especially fire blankets), gaskets, rope seals, artex and other textured coatings, and even vinyl floor tiles.
If you’re a duty-holder in premises that you suspect may contain asbestos, you can find more details on managing it here. We’re happy to help you with any advice or assistance you need.