As reported by the HSE, 20 tradespeople die on average every week from asbestos related diseases. Asbestos can be in any building or house if built before 2000. Asbestos is still present in millions of homes and buildings. The following is an advised approach to non-licensed working with and encountering asbestos and suspect asbestos materials. Information on when to source a licensed asbestos contractor is available from www.hse.gov.uk. Guidance is given on the HSE website when it is acceptable to work with asbestos yourself and when you should seek professional help. A licensed contractor’s guide is also available.
There are legal duties on employers working with licensable and non-licensable work with asbestos. These duties are regulated by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP). The regulations set the minimum standards whereby employees are protected from the risks due to asbestos exposure. This includes premises where there are members of the public and others present. As these regulations only deal with protecting people, they do not deal with protecting the environment. The Environment Agency (EA) in England and the governing bodies for Scotland and Wales should be consulted.
One cannot see or smell asbestos fibres in the air. The effects on one’s health can take many years to show up. If asbestos remains undisturbed, it should remain safe within its surroundings. It is only dangerous when the fibres become airborne. The main health risks include Mesothelioma (a fatal cancer), Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs, not always fatal but a debilitating disease) and diffuse pleural thickening of the lungs which causes breathlessness.
General guidelines for non-licenced work on asbestos/suspect materials
Reduce dust levels
- Wetting asbestos materials causes fewer fibres to become airborne. The asbestos materials should be wetted (contact wetting agent suppliers for wetting material) before starting work but not too wet as it will then be a slurry hard to dispose of.
- Some asbestos materials cannot be wetted all the way through, for example, boards, in these cases dust needs to be disposed of via a vacuum cleaner.
- Spraying is the preferred wetting material, but if a brush is used, it must be disposed of with the other asbestos containing materials.
- The material should be sprayed evenly and slowly so there are no dry patches.
Clean up as you go
- To clean up minor asbestos contamination from smooth non absorbent surfaces, have a bucket of water, cotton rags, adhesive tape and asbestos waste container
- When cleaning up with a rag (which should not disperse fluff), one should not re-soak the rag in water as this will re-contaminate the water
- Clean surfaces of the rags should only be used then thrown away
- Tape can be useful for picking up small fibres and asbestos dust, then should be disposed of with the other asbestos contained material
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Disposable overalls. Cotton overalls trap dust and need specialist cleaning.
- If the cuffs are loose seal them with tape
- Don’t tuck overalls into footwear, as this may trap dust in the footwear
- Use single use gloves
- Wear the hood over the respiratory protective equipment straps
- Never use laced boots are these are difficult to clean properly
- Use suitable RPE with an Assigned Protection Factor of 20 or more.
- This equipment would be ok for most short duration non-licenced work, longer working times requires powered equipment
- Workers should be trained in case of emergency
- Equipment should not be left near the worksite as it may collect asbestos fibres, it should only be removed from the user when totally out of harm’s way
Uncovering asbestos containing materials during the course of other work
- You may be doing other work (e.g redecorating an old building, diy, electrical installation) and come upon an asbestos containing object. The immediate course of action is to keep everyone out of the area, report it to the person in charge, put up a warning sign.
- If the material definitely contains asbestos, the client will need to source a licenced specialist
- If there is some dust/fibres in air and on clothes, the individual needs to undress, shower, dispose of all clothes as asbestos containing waste (if there is a lot of dust/material on them) or special laundering if not
- Care should be taken not to contaminate other areas