Is asbestos really all that dangerous?
AS many of our customers know, asbestos was one of the most widely used building materials and it is still being used in some countries around the world. The apparent versatility of asbestos saw it put to use as a fire retardant, lagging material and (in one Sheffield building I visited) as a decorative alternative to traditional window sills!
The ubiquitous nature of asbestos in construction was coupled with a lack of understanding over how exposure to the fibres can affect lung function and the risk of developing cancer. For many people that have been exposed to asbestos, the risk of developing mesothelioma is a shadow over their lives with even minimal exposure to ‘brown’ and ‘blue’ asbestos significantly increasing the risk of developing symptoms. Recent research has now identified that lung cancer rates in people exposed to even ‘white’ asbestos are significantly above the levels we would expect in the population with declines in the rate of smoking not leading to a similar drop in cancer rates.
The impact of asbestos can be significant and it is essential that staff and customers are not accidentally exposed. There are a few simple things that we can all do to minimise this risk:
Know where it is: The first step is to identify where asbestos is in your building. If you’re building was constructed or adapted before the year 1999 then a form of asbestos could have been used. If you rent a space, your landlord should be able to provide you with a copy of the asbestos register for your building (and if you own it then it is your responsibility to maintain one). By knowing where you have asbestos, you can start to manage the risk;
Train your people: By making sure that your staff have basic asbestos awareness, you can minimise the risk that something innocuous (like lifting a ceiling tile) may expose your people to asbestos. Both the UKATA category A and IATP asbestos awareness syllabuses cover the basics that your people need to stay safe;
Ask for proof of competency from tradesmen: While it’s important that your people understand the risks that the people who make any changes to your workspace are appropriately qualified. Even something as simple as drilling a hole in the wall can lead to exposure so make sure they can prove the right level of training for the work being undertaken;
Manage your asbestos: Having asbestos in your building doesn’t need to be an overly risky thing; when properly managed the risk of exposure can be controlled and, with knowledge of where it is, staff that are aware and qualified tradesman you can avoid the need for costly removal works.
While nothing we do now can turn back the clock for those that have been exposed, by taking a few basic precautions we can significantly reduce the risk of others being affected by asbestos; are you doing enough to minimise the risk to you and those around you?