Despite being banned for well over a decade, and not used in construction since the 1980s, asbestos is still a deadly killer, with asbestos-related diseases accounting for an estimated 4,500 each year in the UK alone in fact, it’s the biggest occupational killer in Britain with tradesmen accounting for a quarter of all annual deaths.
With half a million buildings in the UK containing asbestos, it places millions of us at risk from mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and plural thickening all lung-related diseases that come as a direct result of being in contact with asbestos fibres. Knowing how to manage the situation, however, is vital for all business and commercial properties and this checklist runs down everything you need to do if you suspect your building contains asbestos.
1. Identify When Your Building Was Constructed/Repaired
The use of asbestos in buildings was banned in construction in 1985, but white asbestos was still used for repairs and refurbishments right up until it was completely outlawed in 1999. This means that any buildings constructed or refurbished before the year 2000 could, and will likely, contain some asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
2. Conduct Research Into Possible Asbestos
Before a professional asbestos survey is carried out, which involves a trained contractor physically examining suspected ACMs and areas, there are a number of checks that can be carried out by a building’s management team to uncover as much as possible about any potential asbestos threats that the site may pose.
This could include examining construction records or documents detailing any past repair work (pre-2000) to see if there are any specific mentions of ACMs used, helping you to pinpoint particular areas or materials that may need to be monitored or dealt with.
3. Have An Asbestos Survey Carried Out
While looking through past construction and maintenance work records can be helpful in pinning down specific areas for concern, the most effective way to definitively identify ACMs and whether they need removing or simply managing is through a professional asbestos survey.
It can be tempting to have the survey carried out by members of your own staff for ease, speed or a reduction in cost but without proper training and precautions, it’s easy for ACMs to be unwittingly disturbed and have the fibres released into the air with potentially deadly consequences.
4. Put In Place An Asbestos Management Plan
Not all asbestos containing materials will pose a threat to your employees if it’s used as an insulator within concrete, for example, then it’s likely to pose less of a threat to leave it alone that it would to get it removed. The most important thing, however, is to ensure that any ACMs which are not removed from your site are managed properly to ensure there is no or little risk posed to anyone who might come into contact with it.
Clear labelling should be in place warning people of potential ACMs in a given area, and any staff or contractors who might carry out work on or near the materials should be made well aware of the fact that they contain asbestos. It’s important to note that UK law requires accredited and trained contractors to work on or with ACMs, so as to ensure they’re dealt with safely; one misplaced drill could release thousands of deadly fibres into the air.
5. Get Dangerous Asbestos Materials Removed Professionally
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, outlined by the government’s Health and Safety Executive, regulates the control and removal of any asbestos containing materials. Compliance with this by trained and accredited contractors is the only real sure fire way of ensuring that asbestos is removed and dealt with effectively and in the safest way possible.
The danger with asbestos arises when the material’s fibres are disturbed and then released into the air once breathed in, they can cause irritations and illnesses including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Something as small as a drawing pin inserted into asbestos insulation can release over 6,000 deadly fibres, so it doesn’t take much to create quite a substantial risk. This shows the importance of exercising as much caution as possible when dealing with asbestos in the workplace, and the need for professionals (and professionals only) to deal with removal.