How To Deal With The Risks Of Asbestos
Posted on 19th May, 2017 | By Lorretta Tatham
Though asbestos is now a name universally associated with health risks, even to those outside the construction industry, it can still sometimes be underestimated by tradesmen and the general public alike. This week, we at Browns Safety are taking a quick look at exactly what makes it so dangerous, and how to avoid exposure.
What Is Asbestos And Why Is It Dangerous?
Asbestos is the collective name for a naturally occurring group of minerals that were once in widespread use in the construction industry, frequently mixed with cement. Asbestos fibres are long, thin and flexible, and also strong and durable. They’re highly resistant to fire and corrosion, and consequently asbestos was seen as an excellent insulator. If a building was constructed before the year 2000, it’s very likely that at least some parts of it contain some form of asbestos.
Unfortunately, asbestos is also extremely toxic, and its use is now outlawed in the UK. The qualities that make asbestos so useful to the construction industry are the same qualities that make it so harmful to humans; because asbestos fibres are so tough, they cannot be broken down by the human body. The most common ways for them to enter the body is through inhalation, and once swallowed or inhaled they can frequently become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract. This leads to diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, all of which can potentially be fatal (and indeed often are). Further factors which can affect the development of these diseases include the amount and duration of exposure, the age of the person in question and whether or not they are a smoker. The diseases often take a very long time to develop, and by the time they are diagnosed it’s usually too late to do anything about them.
Asbestos is actually not considered to be harmful unless it’s released dust or fibres into the air, and it’s for precisely this reason that anyone making any changes to a building – even superficially – has the potential for exposure. Asbestos is responsible for the deaths of about 20 tradesmen a week.
How Can You Prevent The Risks Of Asbestos?
Asbestos is at its most hazardous when it’s friable (when it’s crumbled by hand, releasing fibres into the air). For example, sprayed-on asbestos insulation is highly friable, whereas asbestos floor tile is not. As touched on above, asbestos is extremely widespread, but if left intact usually does not pose a risk to human health. For this reason, whenever undertaking any new construction or architectural modification a risk assessment must always be carried out to identify whether or not asbestos is present at the worksite. If it is, care must be taken to avoid disturbing it if at all possible, and protective clothing must always be worn – this includes full body overalls and effective, properly fitted respirators. It’s also necessary to make arrangements for the safe disposal of asbestos waste.
Though it might seem obvious, we feel it’s worth saying: at Browns Safety, we would strongly advise against undertaking this sort of work without the presence of a fully qualified construction professional. We offer an Asbestos Awareness training course that highlights the dangers of working with asbestos. We’ve mentioned some of the broader points in this article, but the course goes into detail about the types of asbestos, the specifics of its impacts on human health, and further information on how to avoid exposure.
You can click here to make a course enquiry, or you can find out about some of the other health and safety courses we offer nationwide. If you have any further questions or need any help or advice, you can always call us on 01282 615517.
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