HSfB Blog

The Hidden Dangers of Asbestos

 

The word 'Asbestos' comes from the ancient Greek meaning 'unquenchable' or 'inextinguishable' and has been in use for well over 4000 years. Its name is given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals which is mined in various locations around the world. It was widely used in fire resistant and insulating materials as well as automotive parts. Due to its incredible characteristics such as strength, incombustibility, and resistance to high temperature heat to name a few, as well as being cheap and readily available, it was regarded as an architects' dream come true.

There are six primary sub-classifications; the common three encountered are:

  • Chrysotile – white asbestos
  • Amosite (Grunerite) – brown asbestos
  • Crocidolite – blue asbestos

It is also divided into two mineral groups namely Amphiboles (Amosite & Crocidolite) and Serpentine (Chrysotile).

The characteristics of Amphiboles:

  • The fibres being straight / needlelike, stiff and split along its length
  • The fibres are hydrophobic – does not readily absorb water

The characteristics of Serpentine:

  • The fibres being curly, long and flexible
  • The fibres are hydrophilic – readily absorbs water

Despite all of its amazing characteristics, asbestos was exposed to be a 'killer dust'. The fibres are microscopic in size and enter the body through inhalation. The fibres easily pass through the airways, lodge in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken down by the body. The most common diseases associated through chronic exposure to asbestos include:

  • Mesothelioma – which is always fatal
  • Lung cancer – almost always fatal
  • Asbestosis – not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating – and
  • Diffuse Pleural Thickening (Pleural plaques) – not fatal. (Ferncroft Environmental, Asbestos Awareness, Powerpoint slide 16)

As a result, asbestos is now a banned substance in the UK and classified as a Type 1 carcinogen, a material that is known to cause cancer. The common types Amosite (Grunerite) and Crocidolite were banned in 1985 with Chrysotile being finally banned in 1999.

Asbestos Hazard Tape

What does the Law say about Asbestos?

Asbestos, a category 1 human carcinogen, is subject to the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012.

The control limit for asbestos is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). There is no 'safe' level of exposure to any type of asbestos fibre and work activities involving asbestos must be reduced to as far below the control limit as possible.

 

Duty to manage asbestos

An explicit duty is placed on the owners and occupiers of non-domestic premises, who have maintenance and repair responsibilities, to assess and manage the risks from the presence of asbestos.

Asbestos surveys – the purpose of the survey is to help manage the asbestos in a duty holders premises. There are two types of survey

  • Management survey
  • Refurbishment or demolition survey

"The main dutyholder is required to ensure that a written plan is prepared that shows where the ACM is located and how it will be managed to prevent exposure to asbestos, including to contractors and other workers who may carry out work on the fabric of the building that could disturb the ACM. This plan then needs to be put into action and communicated to those affected. The dutyholder needs to ensure the plan is reviewed regularly and updated as circumstances change, in consultation with all those who may be affected." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.27)

 

Notification of work with asbestos

For licensable work: – the appropriate enforcing authority is to be notified in writing at least 14 days before undertaking the works. (HSE, ACoP L143, p.51)

 

Information, instruction and training

Employees are to be given adequate information, instruction and training. "This is to be given at regular intervals, adapted to take account of significant changes in the type of work carried out or methods of work used by the employer, and provided in a manner appropriate to the nature and degree of exposure identified by the risk assessment." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.53)

 

Provision and cleaning of protective clothing

"... Adequate and suitable protective clothing is to be issued to employees who are exposed or likely to be exposed to asbestos. Employers are to ensure that such protective clothing is either disposed of as asbestos waste or adequately cleaned at suitable intervals." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.73)

 

Incidents and emergencies

"... requires employers to prepare procedures on what to do if there is an accidental, unplanned, uncontrolled release of asbestos fibre. Also, for licensable work, procedures must be planned, implemented and tested and warning systems should be in place. Details of this information must be given to the emergency services". (HSE, ACoP L143, p.76)

 

Cleanliness of premises and plant

"... employers must ensure that work areas, plant and equipment used for asbestos work are kept clean..." ... and free of asbestos waste. (HSE, ACoP L143, p.84)

 

Air monitoring

Employers are required to monitor their employees' "... exposure to asbestos at regular intervals and when a change occurs which may affect that exposure." "Records of air monitoring or a suitable summary must be kept for 5 years, except that, where employees are under medical surveillance, employers must keep the records or summary to supplement the health record for 40 years. Any summary of results should contain enough information about airborne fibre levels to allow individual average exposures for different types of work to be estimated as accurately as possible." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.93)

 

Health records and medical surveillance

Employees who are exposed to asbestos are to be under adequate medical surveillance by an appointed doctor.  "Where exposure is such that a health record is required, these records must be kept for 40 years." "Medical surveillance must include a medical examination not more than 2 years before the beginning of such exposure, and periodic medical examinations at intervals of at least once every 2 years or such shorter time as the relevant doctor may require while such exposure continues." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.97)

 

Washing and changing facilities

"The type and extent of washing and changing facilities provided should be determined by the type and amount of exposure indicated by the risk assessment."

"Suitable facilities should be provided, including

  • Toilet facilities
  • Facilities for washing and changing for non-licensable work
  • Full hygiene facilities for licensable work
  • An area to eat and drink (for licensable work these should be located as close as reasonably practicable to the hygiene facilities)." (HSE, ACoP L143, p.101)

 

Asbestos waste disposal

Asbestos waste should be double bagged in UN-approved packaging, appropriately labeled, and transported to a licensed disposal site. (HSE, ACoP L143, p.103 & 104)

It is very important that employers comply with the requirements as laid out in the regulations due to the negative effects of asbestos exposure on their employees. Penalty for non-compliance could result in unlimited fines, a custodial sentence, or both.

In order to assist employers in managing the works, and to comply with their duties, the HSE have provided an Approved Code of Practice and guidance document - Managing and working with asbestos – L143.

 

References

  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
  • Approved Code of Practice and guidance – Managing and working with asbestos - L143
  • Ferncroft Environmental, Asbestos Awareness – Powerpoint