What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a material that was regularly used in buildings from the 1950s until the 1990s. It is a natural, fibrous material and still found in many buildings today. Asbestos was often used for insulation or as a solution for fire proofing. For this reason it is usually found in boilers, pipe insulation, roof tiles, ceiling tiles and sprayed coatings. Asbestos can come in any shape or size but there are usually three colours they can come in. Brown, white or blue. However, when mixed with other materials the colours can change so it is sometimes hard to know whether you’ve found it or not. Asbestos is relatively safe until you somehow damage or demolish the building, then it can become deadly.
What makes asbestos so dangerous?
Asbestos is made up of lots of loose fibres. If you inhale these fibres you can contract often fatal diseases. There are a number of different diseases caused by asbestos which affect your lungs. Asbestos Health & Safety is paramount for anyone working with, or even in the close vicinity. The most common is lung cancer. There are two different types of cancer you can get from asbestos exposure. The first is asbestos-related cancer which looks just like lung cancer caused by smoking. The other is Mesothelioma which affects the lining of the lungs and the lining of the lower digestive tract. Unfortunately in most cases by the time it has been diagnosed it is too late and the cancer will be fatal. Another disease caused by asbestos is Asbestosis. this is an extreme scarring of the lungs which is caused by heavy exposure to asbestos over a long period of time. It can cause progressive shortness of breath and in some more serious cases can be fatal. The last disease related to asbestos is Pleural Thickening. This is where the lining of the lungs thickens and swells. If is really bad the lung can be squeezed. It causes shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest. Although use of asbestos was discontinued 16 years ago it still kills about 5000 people a year, that’s roughly 20 per week – which is more than the amount of people killed on the road each year. The most worrying part is that you usually do not get ill straight away after exposure to asbestos. Instead it lays dormant in your body until many years later and then the symptoms start.
Who is affected by asbestos?
Asbestos effects tradesmen, building owners, licenced contractors and even members of the general public. Tradesmen are the people who are most at risk of exposure to asbestos and getting any of the diseases mentioned above. Around 20 tradesmen die each year from asbestos related diseases. It is for this reason that they often have to get a license from a licensed contractor before they can do any work on a building containing asbestos. Building owners have a responsibility to find out if any asbestos is present in their building. If it is they must make a record of it including the location and the type of asbestos present. They must do a risk assessment and make an action plan based on this. They must then monitor the building and let any workers who may disturb the building know about the situation. Asbestos can affect anyone as it could be present in any house or building refurbished before the year 2000.
If you are working with asbestos, asbestos removals or clearance; there are lots of regulations you need to follow to stay safe. The first is equipment.
You need to wear overalls. These should be disposable as cotton overalls can hold in dust and would need to be laundered in a certain way. They should also be a size too big to help prevent ripping. If you are working outside they must be waterproof
You also need to wear gloves. These must be disposed as asbestos waste after use.
The best footwear to use are boots as they are more slip resistant. However don’t use lace up boots as they are much harder to clean.
Perhaps the most important bit of equipment asbestos workers require is the respiratory protective equipment, or dust mask. The mask must be approved by health and safety regulations and it is up to the individual worker to select the correct sized mask for them. However if the worker has a beard or stubble then the dust masks are unsuitable for them to wear for a long period of time. Instead they must use powdered equipment instead. And of course as with the other equipment, the dust masks must be disposed of after use.
There is also a certain standard of training people working with asbestos must go through, including learning how to wear the respiratory protective equipment correctly and effectively. They must learn how to put it on, make sure it fits, how to replace or repair faulty parts of the mask and how to dispose of it correctly as asbestos waste.