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Asbestos - what you need to know

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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos has been used as a building material since the 1950’s, it was popular as an insulator as it is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was a superb insulator both to keep heat in and to keep cold out, has great fire protection properties and protects against corrosion. )

Asbestos tends to be mixed with other materials which can make it difficult to know if you have any in your building, but the changes are if you are working in a building that was built or refurbished before the year 2000 then some part of the building is likely to contain asbestos.

It was used in both domestic and commercial properties.

It was most commonly used in the following ways:

  • Spray coating on structural supports
  • Pipe insulation
  • Insulating boards (also known as AIB) used in Ceiling and door panels
  • AIB window panels
  • Many older Vinyl/PVC or Thermoplastic floor tiles
  • Asbestos cement roof sheeting
  • Textured decorative coatings such as Artex

Although these were the most common uses, there were other ways asbestos could be used.

Why is it dangerous?

Asbestos is a fibrous material, and if the fibres are inhaled they can cause one of four serious diseases, these diseases won’t affect your health right away as they can take many months or years to develop. However, this means that by the time you are showing symptoms and have been diagnosed it is often too late to do anything to halt the progression of the disease.

The diseases that can be caused by asbestos include:

  • Mesothelimona – This is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract. It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and because of the time it takes to develop symptoms it is nearly always fatal by the time it is diagnosed.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer – This form of cancer looks and behaves the same as lung cancer caused by other causes such as smoking.
  • Asbestosis – If you have had heavy exposure to asbestos over the course of many years, then you may develop Asbestosis, which is a scarring of the lung that can cause progressive shortness of breath and in severe cases has been known to be fatal.
  • Pleural thickening – Again, this tends to happen after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lungs thickens and swells, as it gets worse, the lung itself becomes squeezed and causes shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

How do I know if there is Asbestos in the building?

As previously stated if the building was built or refurbished prior to 2000 then there is a good chance that there is asbestos in the building somewhere, you are entitled when working in a building that may have asbestos to ask your employer to tell you if the building has been checked for asbestos, where the asbestos is, and what condition it is in.

What next?

If there is asbestos in the building, then you shouldn’t disturb it as it is perfectly safe unless it is damaged or disturbed. If the asbestos becomes damaged then it will need to be removed from the property, this work can only be carried out by individuals that have undergone specialist asbestos training designed to ensure that people know how to handle asbestos safely, a general awareness training course is not enough.

There are several companies that offer specialist asbestos training for personal that require it, some also offer Asbestos Management" to allow you to comply with the law without having to have a specifically trained member of staff on site.


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