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Posted by David Cant on January 25, 2011
Asbestos has become synonymous with danger. Ever since the safely concerns of Asbestos were brought to light, there has been a nationwide clampdown on the management and removal of asbestos, and it’s not difficult to see why.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a silicate mineral which has a number of very desirable properties. When it comes to heat, it’s one of the best in the industry. It’s completely flame retardant and very thermally stable. Its tensile strength is higher than that of steel. It’s also completely non-conductive and very resistant to chemicals.
Because of this very useful combination of properties, it has been used throughout history in a number of applications, including:
- Fireproofing buildings
- Heat insulation in buildings
- Interior fire doors
- Fireproof clothing
- Thermal pipe insulation
- Fire blankets
- And more
The application most commonly heard of is the use of asbestos in buildings as a thermal insulator and flame-retardant. Before the safety concerns of asbestos were realised, the substance was perfect for the job. It was cheap, readily available and provided more than adequate heat resistance.
What are the dangers of asbestos and why is it so dangerous?
Asbestos is made up of millions of very thin and long fibrous crystals known as asbestos fibres. It is these fibres which makes asbestos such a dangerous substance and also a killer.
Because the asbestos fibres are so small, they are easily airborne and can remain so for many hours, where they are easily absorbed into the lungs. Once in the lungs, they can cause a range of serious diseases and illnesses, such as:
- Lung cancer
These illnesses are caused due to the toxic and physical properties of asbestos. Once asbestos fibres enter the lungs through inhalation, they can cause inflammatory lesions and scar tissue. These lesions can result in breathing difficulties and can also become cancerous, leading to disease and potentially death.
Before the health implications of asbestos were fully understood, the substance was commonly used in a range of industries. This meant that, without proper protection, thousands of workers across the globe were exposed to asbestos. Many of them have gone on to deal with serious life-threatening illnesses and complications.
The truth behind dangerous workplace asbestos exposure…
Natural and safe environmental exposure to asbestos can be as high as 0.0001 fibres per millilitre of air. However, working within certain industries up to the 1980’s painted a different picture. For example, hand sawing asbestos sheets and pipes exposed workers to 1 asbestos fibre per millilitre. Jig sawing asbestos boards exposed workers to 1-5 fibres per millilitre, and even sweeping up asbestos insulation board debris exposed some workers to over 10 fibres per millilitre.
Many workers often did this without any sort of protection, and the figures are available to see the results. It is believed at least 3,500 people in Great Britain die each year due to long-term past exposure of asbestos dust and fibres. In the United States, this figure is as high as 10,000 people per year.
Asbestos in the modern world…
Asbestos is now heavily controlled in most developed countries. Laws are in place which prevents the use of asbestos, and efforts are being made across the globe to decontaminate asbestos within buildings and substances. When asbestos is discovered, it can either be removed by a regulated professional, or it can be managed and monitored if it poses no health risk in its undisturbed state.
Is there anything we have to do?
When asbestos remains undisturbed, it often poses little threat. However, if a building has been built or refurbished before the year 2000, there is a chance that it could contain asbestos. If this asbestos were to be disturbed, it could cause serious health dangers.
Because of this, there is now a legal duty to manage the risk of asbestos exposure if you own a property. If there’s a chance of asbestos, then an asbestos survey should be carried out to determine if the substance is present, determine the danger and then implement a plan to manage the risk of any asbestos found.
Without a survey and proper control, many are at risk. Tradesmen are at risk if they work on the property, workers are at risk if the asbestos is disturbed, and even family members of workers are at risk when cleaning dirty work clothes.
If you’re interested in an asbestos survey, then Veritas Consulting can help. We have legally certified expert asbestos surveyors who can assess your property and provide the help needed to manage any risks found.
This post has been filed in: asbestos management