What Do I Need To Know About Asbestos?
We ofter get asked, “What do I need to know about Asbestos?”. In this article, we answer a number of common questions concerning Asbestos and Asbestos Management.
You have a legal responsibility to protect your staff from exposure to Asbestos Causing Materials so in this article I will explain further the importance of asbestos awareness and answer some of the questions we frequently get asked.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is recognised as the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, resulting in around 5000 deaths each year, which is more than the number of people killed on the road.
According to HSE statistics, on average 20 tradesmen, a week die from asbestos-related diseases. The problem is that the effects of exposure to asbestos do not present themselves until many years later, so most people are unaware that they have been affected.
It’s not just construction workers who are exposed to asbestos. Over the years several teachers, factory and hospital workers have become ill due to exposure. Asbestos is still widespread. If found in the walls and can look like standard insulation, asbestos ceiling and floor tiles are also still common. Many workers and their employers are unaware that asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are in their work environment and are therefore unaware that they are at risk.
I thought that asbestos wasn’t used after 1980. My premises were built in 1985 so shouldn’t they be ok?
Due to its widespread use, many buildings in the UK still contain large amounts of asbestos, in fact, any building constructed before 2000 could potentially contain ACM. The common places to find ACMs are in textured coatings, floor tiles, sprayed coatings in ceilings and walls, insulating board, lagging and even in-ceiling or floor cavities. Asbestos can also be found in plant rooms, ACMs are often found in rope gaskets on boilers or pipework.
So if I have a management survey done, why do I need to train staff on asbestos awareness?
You have a legal duty to manage asbestos by being aware of any in your premises, however, management surveys are not invasive and generally only identify easily observed ACM, so if your premises were built before 2000 there is always a danger that your staff may come across unidentified ACM. If your employees are at risk of disturbing asbestos in their day-to-day work it is a legal requirement that you provide Asbestos Awareness training. Also, as a business owner, if you allow builders or maintenance personnel onto your premises then it’s vital you ensure that they have evidence of Asbestos Awareness training in order to prevent future compensation claims.
How many types of Asbestos are there?
Although there are six types of asbestos, three of them account for 99% of the asbestos used in buildings in the UK: Chrysotile (white), Crocidolite (blue) and Amosite (brown)
I thought I only needed to worry about blue asbestos, isn’t that the most dangerous?
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that one type of asbestos is safer than another. This is untrue and unhelpful. All asbestos is categorised as class 1 carcinogens and all are hazardous to health. The form that the asbestos is in does make a difference to the risk level.
Is it easy to identify them?
Despite the fact that they are often referred to by colour, there is no way to tell them apart visually. Identification of asbestos can only be confirmed by laboratory microscopic analysis. It is impossible to tell asbestos from some other types of building materials that look very similar just by looking at it.
If materials need testing and can’t be identified visually then isn’t it a waste of time training my staff?
Not at all. The asbestos awareness training gives staff the skills to identify potential sources which means that an employer then has the chance to test the substance before anyone damages or disturbs it. If the substance turns out not to contain asbestos, then that is great but if it does you have then avoided exposing employees to very dangerous asbestos fibres.
If my staff identify potential ACM do I need to remove it all?
No necessarily. Asbestos that is unbroken and in good condition is not dangerous, it is the fibres that are the hazard therefore damaged asbestos is unsafe. Asbestos also becomes more friable the older it gets and the more friable it is, the greater the risk of fibres being released. Asbestos that is bound with other materials is less hazardous, for example in floor tiles. Once ACM has been positively identified you should bring in a specialist contractor to assess it and formulate an action plan.
My premises were built after 2000 but my employees carry out work as other client’s premises. Do I still need to train them?
Yes, you do. Your clients do have a duty to inform you if your employees will encounter asbestos, but you cannot rely on this alone to protect your employee. It is your responsibility to train any employees who may be exposed to or disturb ACM whether it be on your own or someone else’s premises.
I only need to drill a couple of holes in the asbestos board, surely this is ok as a one-off task?
No, it is not! There are three classes of work with asbestos. The classification of work should be determined by risk assessment:
- Licensed work; where the work is not of short duration, is not sporadic, will result in the control limit of 0.1 asbestos fibre per cubic centimetre of air in four hours being exceeded, it involves asbestos coatings or long duration work with asbestos insulating board
- Notifiable, non-licensed work; for example removal of asbestos cement products where it has been broken up or removal of asbestos-lined paper or cardboard products
- Not-notifiable, non-licensed work; short-duration work that involves cleaning up of asbestos dust, removal of bound asbestos products, drilling through textured coatings and encapsulation and sealing work
Licensed work must be carried out by a specialist, licensed contractor. Non-licensed work can be carried out by other contractors, but their employees must be trained in how to carry out this type of work and a risk assessment must be carried out.
The guidance given by the HSE in its publication “Asbestos Essentials” should be followed. If the work is notifiable, the contractor must inform the relevant authority that it is being carried out and carry out medical surveillance on their workers.