This week is Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW) and as always, we are keen to raise awareness and educate others about the ongoing risks and dangers of this potentially fatal substance. 

So, where did Asbestos come from? 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that was first introduced into the UK during the Industrial Revolution from Canada and South Africa, owing to its resistance against heat and corrosion. A common misconception is that the term “asbestos” refers to one material when it is in fact six naturally occurring minerals. 

It was only following World War II that this material was more widely used, as a relatively cheap commodity in the rebuilding of Britain. Common products that contain asbestos include sprayed coatings on ceilings and walls, asbestos insulating board, vinyl floor tiles, loose-fill insulation, textured decorative coatings and pipe lagging.  

Due to its serious health implications, a ban on the importation, supply and use of any asbestos materials came into play in the UK in 1999. Despite this, asbestos has a presence within 1.5 million buildings built or refurbished before 2000, including 75% of schools across the UK. 

Why is Asbestos so dangerous? 

Asbestos poses a risk to human health when materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged and fibres are released into the air and consequentially inhaled or ingested. Once inhaled, the fibres can lay dormant in the lungs for 20 to 60 years before manifesting into diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer, pleural thickening and pleural laques. 

The latest statistics published by the HSE in 2022 show that there are over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths every year in the UK. This figure includes approximately 20 tradespeople every week, making it the single greatest cause of work-related deaths. The tradespeople include builders, joiners, plumbers, electricians and interior contactors. 

How is Asbestos identified and treated? 

Prior to any work commencing in a building built or refurbished before 2000, it is essential to ascertain whether asbestos is present and to establish the asbestos type and its condition.  

If the duty holder of the building suspects that asbestos is present, they have a duty of care to report both its location and condition. If no previous information is available, the area of suspected asbestos should be surveyed by an experienced and trained surveyor, who will be able to take samples of the material for analysis.  

Should Asbestos be detected, a risk assessment must be completed to identify the risk level and avoid the risk of asbestos exposure. This will determine whether building work can be carried out and whether removal of the asbestos by a licensed contractor is required. If removal is not deemed necessary, a management plan should be produced to manage the asbestos and ensure that it is not disturbed in the future.

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