Risks Associated With Working With Asbestos

Risks Associated With Working With Asbestos
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    Asbestos was once commonly used for all sorts of construction purposes, before being banned in the UK and most other developed countries due to the health risks associated with the substance.


However, because there is no legal requirement to remove asbestos from buildings where it was used; many properties throughout the UK still contain asbestos.

This means asbestos can still pose a significant risk to people if the right safety measures are not taken. In this article we will explain exactly what asbestos is, some of the key risks associated with asbestos, and what can be done to reduce the risks from working with asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name used for six naturally occurring silicate minerals, all of which are made up of thin fibrous crystals, each composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils”. In common usage, asbestos is split into four main types: blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos and green asbestos.

Asbestos was a popular construction material for its good sound absorption properties and its resistance to fire, heat and electricity, as well as its relative affordability. However, from the early 20th century onwards concerns grew about health problems associated with asbestos.

Most types of asbestos were banned in the UK in 1985 and all types were finally banned in 1999.

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Why is asbestos dangerous?

Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause a number of health problems. When breathed in, the microscopic fibres can pass into the lungs and stay there for years. These fibres cannot be removed and there are no cures for asbestos-related diseases.

If left undisturbed, asbestos is usually safe. However, if materials containing asbestos are damaged, this can release the fibres into the air meaning they can be inhaled by anyone not using the right sort of protective equipment. This most often happens during renovation or demolition work on buildings containing asbestos.

While all types of asbestos are dangerous, brown and blue asbestos are generally thought of as the most hazardous. However, all types of asbestos should be treated with equal care as all can lead to serious health issues if their fibres are inhaled.

Estimates from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that around 4,000 deaths a year in the UK are due to asbestos-related diseases.

Diseases caused by asbestos

There are two main types of diseases caused by exposure to asbestos fibres: asbestosis and asbestos-related cancer.

  • Asbestosis

    Asbestosis is an incurable lung condition caused by extended exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, extreme tiredness, chest pain and swollen fingers.

    The condition is caused by the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres that become lodged in the lungs. This triggers an immune response, where your body tries to break down the fibres. Unfortunately, asbestos fibres cannot be broken down in this way and the substances your immune system creates in attempting to destroy the fibres end up damaging your lungs instead.

    This lung damage reduces your ability to take oxygen from the air into your bloodstream and leads to the various symptoms of asbestosis.

  • Asbestos-related cancer

    Asbestos exposure can lead to cancer of the lungs, abdominal cavity and, rarely, other parts of the body. Depending on the type of cancer, tumours can appear anywhere from 20-50 years after exposure. The prognosis for asbestos-related cancer tends to be poor, with few patients surviving for more than 5 years and sufferers of some types generally surviving for less than 1 year after diagnosis.

Who is at risk from working with asbestos?

People who work in the construction industry are generally most at risk from asbestos-related illnesses, particularly those who did so during the 1970s and 1980s, when asbestos use was at its peak. Anyone working on a building constructed before the 21st century could also be at risk, although modern safety methods and equipment significantly reduce the associated risks.

Types of workers most likely to have been exposed to asbestos include:

  • Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters
  • Plasterers
  • Insulation workers
  • Boilermakers
  • Heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics
  • Shipyard workers
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Chemical technicians

However, the risk is not just limited to those directly working with asbestos, but to those who may have inadvertently been exposed during the course of their work.  As an example, there have been a number of cases involving school staff who have become exposed to asbestos in their school.  

Reducing the risks from working with asbestos

There are various measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure. Good asbestos safety practices include:

  • Having a survey to establish whether asbestos is present in an area where people will be working.
  • Make an assessment of the potential risks from the asbestos, including what condition the asbestos is in and whether it needs to be removed or disturbed during the course of your work.
  • Make sure everyone working in the area has the appropriate training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid dangerous exposure to asbestos fibres.

What to do if you have an asbestos-related illness

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness caused by exposure while you were at work, you may be able to make a claim against your employer or former employer. Compensation could help fund the care you need or provide a nest egg for your loved ones. A specialist asbestos compensation claims solicitor will be able to advise you on whether you have a case for making a claim and guide you through the process of doing so.

Home Remodeling reference:

AMAZONS BESTSELLERS: removing asbestos



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