This article follows on from our previous blog post Asbestos the silent killer
Asbestos is the UK’s biggest cause of work-related deaths. In fact, Asbestos has claimed the lives of 50,000+ people in the last 3 decades. While Asbestos can take some time to develop it can cause Mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. These diseases don’t just affect workers, they can also affect their families if they have inadvertently come into contact with it.
It can take up to 30 years for someone to show symptoms of Mesothelioma and the other diseases that Asbestos can cause. This is why it’s often hard to work out what is causing the symptoms. Some people may not have realised they were working in a building that contained Asbestos or even realised that they had come into contact with Asbestos. This is usually why many people are shocked that they are suffering from Mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer.
What Exactly is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that was once quite widely used during the 1960’sand 1970’s. The reason behind its use comes down to the fact that it was considered to be a very versatile material in the building industry. While the use of Asbestos has been banned for many years it can still be found in some buildings. This is because some older buildings still stand and are considered to be structurallysafe. While many old buildings have been torn down and replaced with something new, there are still old ones located all over the UK that contain Asbestos.
This material was once used in shipbuilding, insulation, textiles and fireproofing. Unfortunately,this means that thousands of people who worked in these industries were potentially exposed to it.
The Risk of Exposure Today
As we have already seen, Asbestos is no longer used due to its disease-causing properties. However, there is still a risk of exposure, especially in the construction industry. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on Asbestosis that there is still a high risk of exposure to people with certain job roles, in particular, those work as:
- Computer installation engineers
- Demolition workers
- Fire and burglar alarm installers
- General maintenance workers
- Heating and ventilating engineers
- Painters and Decorators
- Site Managers
- Telephone engineers
If you have worked in any of the above professions you may have been exposed to Asbestos at some time.
How Can Workers Stay Safe?
In our last blog on Asbestos,we looked at the training required to deal with the discovery ofthe substance along with what to do if Asbestos is uncovered. Here we look at the laws along with regulations that mean that building controllers need to manage workers’ exposure to Asbestos.
On non-domestic premises, under the regulations the building controller must by law:
- Identify materials that may contain Asbestos
- Keep up to date records about the Asbestos
- Assess the risk of exposure
- Plan how any risks will be managed
- Inform anyone who may work on the building
- Inform anyone who may disturb the Asbestos
The Health and Safety Executive has an ‘Asbestos Licensing Unit’ that regulates every company who is working with Asbestos and grants them permission to carry out any required work.
Asbestos Work Plans
If Asbestos is found to be present, then as the employer you should provide workers with a ‘work plan’ by law. This work plan should identify the type of Asbestos that has been found, along with the type and level of exposure employees are likely to deal with. The plan will also cover how you plan to eliminate or reduce the exposure and how as the employer you intend to monitor the exposure of your employees.
As the employer i.e. Principal Contractor on a project, you should provide full and complete training along with any relevant information to employees that could be at risk of exposure.
Working with Asbestos
No attempts should ever be made to work with Asbestos unless your business has an Asbestos removal licence. Additionally, no individual should ever work with Asbestos products unless they have had the correct training, information and protection.
As the employer it is imperative that you keep accurate and up to date training record along with the results of air monitoring face-fit testing. The face-fit testing will ensure that an employee is wearing a mask that adequately fits and proects them and the records will demonstrate that you have done everything you can as the employee to protect workers.
It is quite difficult to remove Asbestos as there are some very strict guidelines that surround it. If the Asbestos needs to be removed while there are people working in the affected building they may need to be temporarily relocated. It is typical for the part of the building where the Asbestos is located to be sealed off so that other areas are not contaminated.
If a worker shows signs of Asbestos exposure then as the employee you should advise them to see their doctor straight away.
There can a variety of illnesses that throw up similar symptoms so whilst you should never jump to conclusions that your symptomsare related to Asbestos exposure, it is always best to make medical practitioners aware of any potential exposure.
There is always a risk when working with older buildings of Asbestos exposure, but employers can minimise the risks by putting in place work plans, appropriate PPE, Face-Fit Testing and the appropriate training. Effective communication of the dangers is key so that workers can carry out their roles with safety in mind and employers will be safe in the knowledge that they are doing everything they can to protect their team.