What to do if you find asbestos in your building

Posted on 28th Feb, 2020 | By Lorretta Tatham

Asbestos is a near-constant concern for business owners across the country. It was a popular building material in the UK up until 1999, when it was outlawed as a new construction material. This is largely because it was found to be hugely hazardous to human health, capable of causing a long list of health complications and diseases.

Technically, asbestos is a term used to describe a specific group of minerals that are made of microscopic fibres. The long and thin fibrous crystals can be released into the air, presenting the risk of inhalation. The fibres are so small they can travel deep into the lungs and can get lodged inside sensitive lung tissues. Once inside the lungs, asbestos can cause serious diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – which may ultimately result in death.

Due to the highly toxic and dangerous nature of this substance, it’s always best to follow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 guidelines. Here, we’ve summed up the key details – so here’s what to do if you find (or think you’ve found) asbestos in your building.

 

Discovering asbestos

No amount of asbestos is considered safe, and there are certain places it’s more likely to be found. Loose-fill insulation, AIB ceiling tiles, AIB partition walls, and even AIB panels in fire doors can all contain asbestos. We’ve written a blog on where asbestos is often found, to help you identify products that may contain this hazardous material.

You can easily disturb asbestos by drilling, hammering, replacing ceiling tiles,  removing old insulation, or other common home or office renovation projects.

If you find something in your building that you believe may be asbestos, here’s what you need to do:

  • Stop work — immediately
  • Clear the area
    • Anyone not wearing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) — must leave the area immediately
    • Warn anyone who may be affected
    • Identify cause or source of the asbestos release
    • Notify your employer or the building owner
    • Send off materials for analysis

Official guidance from the HSE recommends that you wait for the official analysis to come back so that you can ascertain exactly what the material is, and take all of the necessary precautions. If the substance does indeed prove to be asbestos, you’ll need to determine if you need a licensed contractor to complete the work.

You may not require a licensed contractor if the asbestos is a low risk. Generally, low risk means the asbestos fibres are firmly bound in a matrix making it hard for them to detach and get into your lungs.

How to prepare for asbestos

The best way to protect yourself and others from exposure to asbestos is to treat all incidents seriously, no matter how low-risk they may initially seem. As with many safety-related incidents, it’s far better to be over-prepared under-prepared, which could end up having severely harmful and dangerous consequences.

You can be prepared by having a plan, most trades that may come in contact with asbestos generally have set of procedures in place — you’ll want to review them. Some employers may even have a complete hazardous materials kit for each of its employees. Others may not, meaning you’ll need to always make sure you are prepared.

Here’s a list of what you will need for any incident involving known asbestos:

  • Caution tape or caution sign
  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
  • Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE)
  • A change of clothes
  • Rags or towels
  • Clean water
  • Plastic bags
  • Notebook and pen (or digital notebook) to make record the incident

In terms of creating company procedures it is best to adopt the policy of “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Every time there is a chance it could be asbestos it’s best to assume its the worst kind and require workers to stop anything they are doing, immediately clear the area, and section it off to prevent anyone from being contaminated. The worst types of asbestos can linger in the air for months after being disturbed — so it’s worth being extra cautious until you know exactly which type of asbestos you are dealing with.

If you have dust or debris on any clothing

During or after an uncontrolled release of asbestos, you may notice dust or debris on your clothing. It’s critical for you to avoid inhaling the hazardous dust, as this is the main cause of asbestos-related diseases, some of which can ultimately result in death.

If you have a little bit of dust on your sleeves or shoes the best thing to do is to wipe down your clothes with a damp rag. Dispose of rags as asbestos waste (at an authorised centre) and keep a detailed record of the event.

If you have a lot of asbestos debris on your clothes, hair, or footwear, the best thing to do is to stay where you are and put on Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE), if possible.

Once you’ve done that you’ll need to:

  • Wipe down your clothing with a damp rag until visually clean
  • Remove your top layer of clothing before moving away from the source
  • Ask someone with RPE and PPE to help get any remaining debris out of your hair or off your face (or other exposed skin)
  • Put all contaminated clothing, towels, and rags into a plastic bag
  • Contact a local disposal centre to properly get rid of your asbestos waste
  • Keep a record of the incident for you and your employer

 

Disposal of asbestos 

Asbestos is classified as a hazardous material and it must be handled very carefully. As a result of this classification, there are strict regulations governing all of the appropriate asbestos disposal methods, containment packaging, and legal requirements. Each council has information available on where you can find a licensed asbestos disposal site.

There are three different colours of asbestos and it can be incorporated into many different products. Different methods and procedures for disposal will apply, depending on the specific type of asbestos. You’ll need to contact the disposal centre directly so they can tell you about their asbestos procedures, and so both parties can be prepared for the handling of these materials. This way, you’ll be given all of the information including any daily disposal limits, packaging requirements, and accurate hours of operation.

Proper training is essential

The most important part of dealing with asbestos is to be safe. You can do this by always being prepared with protective equipment and having knowledge on products, items, and types of asbestos, as well as ensuring that staff are properly trained. That’s where we can help here at Browns Safety.

Safety is at the centre of everything we do here at Browns Safety, and we have a range of courses aimed at helping you and your employees stay safe at work. Our safety courses include asbestos awareness training and First Aid. You can book your place on one of these courses by giving us a call on 01282 615517, or registering your interest on the page itself. Your safety is our priority!

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