There are 4,500 deaths a year in the UK alone from asbestos in the workplace. That’s 86 workers and tradesmen every week.
It’s a heavy-hitter, not to be taken lightly.
The sad thing is most of these deaths happen because asbestos is simply taken too lightly. But when you and your employer take the recommended steps of precaution, you’re very unlikely to face any threat.
So this post is for workers and tradesmen, to give a nice clear picture of exactly what you’re facing and how to deal with it. First, let’s quickly look at exactly who’s at risk and what asbestos is anyway.
What & Where is Asbestos?
Asbestos was a popular building material up until it was found to be extremely dangerous and was banned in 1999. So when you’re working on any building older than 15 years old, there may well be asbestos in there somewhere.
The problem is it can be almost everywhere (see these images). Here are some common places:
– Sprayed on structural beams and girders
– Asbestos insulating board in partition walls, fire breaks and surrounds, gutters, ceiling tiles, door panels, lift shaft lining, and service duct covers
– The packing between partition walls and floors
– The lagging on boilers, pipes and heat exchangers
– Asbestos cement materials used in bath panels, fire surrounds, water tanks, roof and wall cladding, water tanks and rainwater pipes
– Plenty of other places like rope seals, paper products, mastics, floor tiles, sealants, roofing felt, etc.
This diagram illustrates common places in a house where it can be found.
When are you at risk?
You only become at risk when you damage the material containing the asbestos and the fibres become airborne so you can breathe them in.
So construction workers, electricians, plumbers, demolition workers, plasterers, heating and ventilation engineers, and any other similar professions should take care.
Why is it so deadly?
When inhaled asbestos can lead to fatal or debilitating diseases, most commonly lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, diffuse plural thickening. Nasty stuff.
The good news is, rates of work-related diseases are falling – as illustrated by this great little infographic put together by Assurity Consulting.
For Workers – 4 Steps to Avoid the Threat
- See a detailed asbestos survey before you begin
Your company or employers should have carried out a thorough asbestos survey on the work site, to find any possible asbestos locations and plan how to work around them and remove them safely.
And more importantly – they should go through the findings with you before any work begins. This is all-important. Make sure you’ve seen a survey and you know where the threat areas are! It’s your health at risk, not theirs.
- Know how to work with asbestos materials
You should know the exact safe procedure for working with any product containing asbestos. This includes:
– How to deal with asbestos cement
– How to deal with textured coatings
– How to deal with insulating board
– How to deal with any undamaged asbestos materials
– How to remove and replace any suspect materials
– How to fly tip asbestos-containing materials safely
These processes are too detailed for one post, but check out the HSE asbestos essential guides for how to carry out all these procedures.
- Use the right protective equipment
Asbestos is harmful when airborne, so first and foremost – you need respiratory protective equipment. Then the right overalls, gloves and footwear. Don’t take a chance with the wrong equipment, see a detailed breakdown here.
- Know what to do if things go wrong
If the worst come to the worst, and you’re accidentally exposed to asbestos, you damage asbestos-containing materials, or you see asbestos fibres floating in the air.
Stop work immediately, and follow the steps laid out in the HSE guidance here.
We hope you’ve now got a clear picture of how to look after yourself. And of course, we’re always happy to talk about your asbestos concerns, just get in touch!
Do you have any questions about dealing with asbestos as a worker?
Or have you had any experience with asbestos you’d like to share?