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Asbestos health and safety – know how to protect yourself and others

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Every week on average 20 tradesmen die from exposure to asbestos including plumbers, electricians and joiners. The importation, supply and use of all forms of asbestos are banned. However, many buildings, and some plant and equipment, still contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

Before you start any work in a building that might contain asbestos (e.g. built or refurbished before the year 2000), you need to identify whether asbestos is present and determine its type and condition, carry out a risk assessment and decide if the work needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor. If the work is not licensable, you will need to decide if the work needs to be notified. Always ensure those carrying out the work are suitably trained.

Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Any building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc.) can contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.

When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4500 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

Asbestos fibres are present in the environment in Great Britain so people are exposed to very low levels of fibres. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels can increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos related diseases won’t affect immediately but later on in life, so there is a need for you to protect yourself now to prevent you contracting an asbestos-related disease in the future. It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

The HSE asbestos site provides health and safety advice and guidance so that those who may be exposed to asbestos at work know what to do to protect themselves and others.

Visit the HSE asbestos site

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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