Asbestos is one of the worst legacies of the twentieth century. Despite the fact that it was officially banned in 1999, there are still thousands of properties across the UK where it is utilized. Unfortunately, it is highly probable that the problem is going to become more and more pressing as years go by, due to deterioration of this material. Any attempts at conducting redecorations or demolitions of places containing asbestos can lead to grave health risks such as lung cancer, mesothelioma or asthma.
Worse still, there are no exceptions as to who could be affected by asbestos exposure – both children and seniors can develop serious symptoms related to this material and potentially shorten their lifespan. This is why people should be constantly made aware of the gravity of the situation with asbestos exposure and how dangerous it can be.
My workplace contains asbestos – should I be concerned?
Being exposed to asbestos is certainly one of the biggest health and safety misconducts that employers should avoid at all costs. Having said that, it is obviously easier said than done, especially as asbestos can sometimes reside in very innocuous places such as piping or roofs where it is not seen at first glance. Even if it was, though, some kinds of asbestos are difficult to classify at first and need to be properly investigated and analysed by professionals to be deemed safe or requiring removal.
The bottom line is that no person without proper expertise, equipment and experience should attempt to remove it. If cases such as these happen, one is highly encouraged to discuss and report the concerns to the health and safety representative in order to organise an inspection. However, the case may well be that the material is well-preserved and does not pose a high enough threat to warrant immediate action.
Moreover, one has to be aware of the fact that when asbestos is disturbed, it removes the noxious fibres which can end up depositing in the respiratory tract and significantly shorten life expectancy. What is even more treacherous about the material is the fact that the symptoms connected with diseases such as mesothelioma or asbestosis can only come to light after 20 to 30 years. Finally, there are no safe limits of asbestos exposure so even the smallest of exposures can negatively impact people’s lives in the future and worsen the well-being in the later years.
What is asbestos risk register all about?
The asbestos risk register could be described as an analysis of the material that resides in your dwelling. It is conducted in order to establish the condition of any potential present asbestos and judge whether there is a need to undertake immediate measures to dispose of it or not. It is also important for such a report to be updated on a regular basis so that any possible deteriorations of the material are accounted for.
That very document does not have to be issued on paper, there are multiple templates that will help you get all the necessary information up to date. This is of crucial importance, especially considering the fact that asbestos removal is often conducted based on the information included in that report.
Needless to say, government legislations did not do much to get rid of the existing traces of asbestos and people everywhere have been left with that pressing issue. However, we also advise that dwellings built before 1999 should definitely have similar surveys done in order to ascertain that no asbestos remnants are left there and the building is safe. Not abiding by that rule may result in subsequent higher cost of removal which will also have to be preceded by a thorough, rather time-consuming survey. Moreover, the components have to be evidenced and properly described which, in turn, ensures more safety in the workplace or dwelling.
Is risk assessment necessary before I start working on asbestos?
That is a valid question. Asbestos is too dangerous a substance to be handled on your own, without the supervision of professionals and proper protective equipment. Bear in mind that when this material is released into the air, it instantaneously becomes a legitimate health risk that may not reveal its consequences for decades. These factors render asbestos removal such an important process.
However, before it is conducted, usually a special assessment is done in order to establish whether this material is indeed present on site and, if so, how urgently it needs to be got rid of. The condition of asbestos is one of the most crucial parts of the process and constitutes a basis for preparing a further work plan. If it turns out that the ACM (asbestos containing material) is on the verge of crumbling, urgent measures will have to be taken.
Sometimes, however, that is not the case and a less pressing situation can actually allow for scoping the removal process with as many details and extreme consideration for the building. In situations like these, our inspectors pay the utmost attention to working out a plan that will take into account any possible obstacles so that getting rid of any remaining asbestos is appropriately safe. This notwithstanding, it is worth having the assessment done as very often the buildings we live or work in can hide dirty secrets.
Fortunately, the time has come for technology and experts to help companies and individuals eliminate that nagging legacy and restore a risk-free living environment.
What are the health risks from asbestos?
The ruinous consequences of being exposed to asbestos have been well documented in medical reports and statistics over the last few years. Diseases related to this substance claim the lives of up to 5000 people every year, leaving others seriously incapacitated and with shortened life expectancy. The fibres, when inhaled, deposit in the lungs and can cause ailments such as pleura or asbestosis. In a long run, exposure can trigger mesothelioma or lung cancer.
What makes it even more deceptive is the fact that the symptoms of the disease can appear after as much as a couple decades, often too late for the patient to be fully treated. While small amounts of asbestos exposure may not directly lead to the aforementioned diseases, prolonged and regular (e.g. occupational) contact with the material has been linked with increased risk of contracting severe illnesses of the respiratory tract.
One of the most telling examples of asbestos-related illness is the case of the World Trade Center which, while collapsing, released tons of toxic fibres into the atmosphere. The rescue workers who worked at the site started falling seriously sick soon after, complaining about respiratory problems and developing grave illnesses such as cancers. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that the older buildings can be similarly dangerous when it comes to conducting redecorations or demolishing walls. Toxic dust, when it gets into the air, may pose a tremendous threat to the well-being of yours and your immediate surroundings.
Moreover, among the several factors which are listed as the ones which help to determine the asbestos exposure are the extent and duration of contact, as well as source and factors such as previous health issues. There is a significant body of research claiming that the combination of smoking and inhaling asbestos is particularly health-damaging and can radically decrease the life expectancy.
Still not convinced? Maybe you recognize some of these symptoms: shortness of breath, appetite loss or extreme exhaustion? If you complain of any of these and you have lived in an old building, you may seriously consider contacting your GP in order to have all the necessary check-ups.
Safety at your workplace
If there are signs of presence of asbestos at your workplace, you ought to undertake certain actions presented below to ensure your work is risk-free and you will not disturb asbestos in any way. Learn some dos and don’ts:
Follow these steps:
- Cease your work
- Report to those in charge
- Consult guidance sheets
- Do not ignore other risks
- Protect your health
- Leave the place clean
- Remember about hygiene
- Notify the job, if required (if it is a not licensable work)
To elaborate on these steps above, once you suspect that there are traces of asbestos stop your work instantaneously and ascertain that your colleagues also do so, secure the place and leave it together. Asbestos should be dealt by a professional, therefore, if possible, contact the owner of the building, or your employer to report the existence of this material, since there might be the need of calling a licensed contractor to ensure asbestos removal safety.
Moreover, you should follow guidance sheets and the work plan. Remember to evaluate other hazards connected with your occupation and protect your health by wearing appropriate equipment like protective clothing, for example face masks. Clean the area and if there is any waste, throw it away in a double-bag to assigned waste carrier. Before leaving your work, make sure whether or not you should notify the work. Always remember about washing – not only before going home, but also in between the work.
However, if you believe that there are signs of asbestos at your working area, you must not:
- Smoke or eat, or drink in this area
- Sweep or use equipment that may cause dust rise – note that using a Type H vacuum cleaner is advised here,
- Use twice disposable clothes – also do not take it home.
What are the responsibilities of people in charge of the work?
Being in charge requires following certain regulations concerning working in a place where might be materials with asbestos. It is important to know that there are a few steps that should primarily be undertaken:
- Detection of presence of asbestos
- Preparation of cautious strategy of work – vital: this step involves checking if there are any traces of asbestos, and ensuring that these materials are not disturbed
- Assessment of which work may be conducted by employees, and which require a licensed contractor
- Provision of appropriate training and guidelines for those working with asbestos, as well as supplying them with required equipment and courses related to these tools
- Supervision of employees
- Final inspection to ascertain the area is tidy, clean and apt to be used again
- Evaluation of other risks connected with a given work by ensuring appropriate preventative measures
- Limitation of asbestos exposure by providing proper guidance sheets, i.e. method sheets and task sheets
- Organisation of asbestos removal plan.
As it is an employer’s or premises owner’s obligation to care for safety and health of those working at a given place, it is also advisable to consult and follow the instructions of health and safety representatives, as well as licensed contractor to evaluate asbestos removal risks.
Identifying potential risks
As it was stated before, employer’s duty is to manage asbestos exposure risk prior to conducting any work that may potentially disturb asbestos, thus it is suggested to evaluate and analyze related hazardous factors. It is vital that a person conducting such assessment is competent enough for the task and knows all the specifics of a given occupation. Note that evaluation of risk must be carried early enough (crucially before any job is done) so as to provide employer with time to ensure safety at the workplace and prepare needed precautions.
Steps of risk assessment:
- Regular instructions for the employees
- Analysis of potential occupation specific hazards, and those related to asbestos exposure
- Preparation of the plan of eliminating the risk (if not attainable – reduction of it)
- Implementation of the plan
- Recording of risk assessment and implemented actions
- Routinely updating risk identification
Who is competent to conduct a risk assessment?
This person needs to be primarily qualified, hence, trained and experienced to be able to execute risk evaluation concerning a given job and asbestos, as well as anticipated degree of its exposure, its limit and controls. Therefore, they need to be able to propose appropriate solutions leading to reduction (or at least limitation) of danger associated with asbestos.
What should be included in a report concerning risk assessment?
A well-prepared report based on conducted assessment of risk should contain adequate and comprehensive information of collected data, as well as strategy and an estimation of duration of planned works. Sufficient content of such evaluation should comprise following details:
- Kind of asbestos
- The amount of it
- Emergency plan
- Estimation of exposure degree
- Asbestos waste management and decontamination methods for equipment
- Procedures which are to be undertaken to limit the exposure (including means like controlled wetting, respiratory protective equipment, personal protective equipment and local exhaust ventilation).