Asbestos was used in old vehicle brakes and clutches, building materials, floor tiles, friction products, textiles, and insulation for pipes. It is in the construction industry and ship building and repair. It is used in a variety of products due to its resistance to corrosion and heat. However, its high utility cannot counter the deadliness of its dust.
The Dangers of Exposure to Asbestos
Asbestos is made of mineral fibres that occur naturally and are sometimes treated chemically or altered, and these include anthophyllite, tremolite, amosite, crocidolite, chrysotile, and actinolite. These fibres are invisible to the naked eye and heavy exposure to them comes with great health risks.
Workers became exposed to asbestos during the manufacture of asbestos products, repair work for automotive brakes and clutches, and the removal of asbestos products during repairs, renovations or demolition. If you breathe in the fibres you can get asbestosis, which is the build-up of scar-like tissue in the lungs. Eventually your lungs stop functioning and this can lead to disability or death. You can get cancer of the lungs and also Mesothelioma, a fatal malignant tumour occurring to the membrane lining the stomach or lung cavity. Such health hazards are the reason why the use of asbestos has to be highly regulated.
Deadly Asbestos Dust Endangers Bath Builders
On 19 March 2014 a London court heard that two employees of a bath building contractor were exposed to deadly asbestos dust while working on a residential site. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Geoff Thomas and Son Ltd. for allowing demolition work to go on without making prior assessment for the presence of asbestos, and for later failing to prevent the spread of the risk.
Bath Magistrates" Court learnt that Geoff Thomas and Son had been contracted to do a ceiling replacement by Curo Places Ltd. The two workmen demolished the asbestos-containing basement ceiling using hand tools at the New King Street property in January 2013. They used their hands to pull down parts of the ceiling that were made of asbestos insulation board. The contractor sent the workmen off to do other jobs before their clothes and tools were decontaminated even after realising the ceiling contained asbestos.
The court found Geoff Thomas and Son Ltd of Braysdown, Peasedown St John, guilty of two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. It paid a total of £5,000 in fines and £637 in costs.
How to Mitigate the Hazards
According to HSE Inspector Paul Newton, €œthe removal of high-risk, asbestos-containing materials should only be done by a licensed contractor.€ It is a requirement for employers in the shipyard, general, and construction industries to provide hazard awareness training and personal exposure monitoring for risk assessment in order to reduce potential risks of occupational exposure. When you are dealing with asbestos fibres, you cannot really say there is a safe level of exposure because a few days of exposure have been known to cause Mesothelioma.
As an employer, the measures you put in place to reduce the risks include ensuring the airborne levels are always within the legal worker exposure limits. You should also set up controlled areas, institute engineering controls to keep the airborne levels to the minimum, and put a check on certain work practices. Ensure there is adequate personal protective equipment for your workers. Also have a medical monitoring program for when exposure times and legal limits are exceeded.
Geoff Thomas and Son failed to protect its workers and in the process exposed them to the single greatest cause of occupational deaths in the UK. It was clear from the beginning that the ceiling replacement work would tamper with the building"s fabric, creating a risk of exposure to asbestos. The contractor should then have done an area asbestos survey before the work began and put sufficient measures to deal with it in place. The contractor further increased the risk by failing to decontaminate the workers, and instead allowing them to work on other jobs and return home. They allowed the potential spread of asbestos to other workers and to their families.
Where Can You Find Help?
Only trained people should be allowed to handle asbestos. If you need useful info on training or dealing with asbestos, call our experienced health and safety consultants today on 0800 1488 677. You will also get additional valuable info on worker protection, employer responsibilities, and workers" rights.