Asbestos fibres are naturally present in the environment in Britain, but in very small doses that we have become acclimatized to. The danger occurs when the amount of fibres in the air are concentrated and inhaled. This may be many hundreds of times the natural occurrence. The effects of breathing in and exposing oneself to asbestos may cause acute and fatal diseases later on in life. Asbestos related deaths results in around 4500 a year. Asbestos causes four main diseases, one fatal one is mesothelioma (this is a cancer that develops from the cells of the mesothelium, which is the protective lining of most of the internal organs of the body) and lung cancer which is always terminal. Non-fatal diseases include asbestosis (a chronic inflammatory medical condition that affects the lungs), although not fatal, this can be very debilitating. So for these reasons, the use of asbestos has been banned since 1999.
However, asbestos has been used all over the world in building materials since the mid-nineteenth century. One of the uses was as asbestos insulating board in ceilings, windows and door panels. It was also used as a sprayed coating i.e as fire protection on structural supports like columns and beams. Asbestos was also used in toilet cisterns, water tanks, pipe insulation, as floor tiles, in cement mixtures…actually it was used in almost most places in the home. Up to 50% of the building material in any home may contain asbestos today, but it is only lethal if it is disturbed and inhaled. It is best to leave it alone rather than remove it. The main types of asbestos can be categorised as blue, brown and white but this is this is not distinctively clear; asbestos has many guises and can be difficult to detect, especially if mixed with other materials.
However, asbestos can be managed. The best way to treat asbestos is not to touch or disturb it. That way it won’t release the deadly fibres. But many times there are accidents in the home and in commercial buildings and so the materials may crack, break, fall or expose themselves in such a way that allows the asbestos fibres to escape and be a hazard to humans. A professional licensed removal firm is vital to remove asbestos. Full body coverage and a respiratory apparatus is essential when dealing with this deadly material. Asbestos cannot be vacuumed or disposed of in a normal rubbish bin. It needs to be taken to specialized disposal sites.
Simple steps to managing asbestos
- Plan on working around and not disturbing these materials if possible
- Those that are working around asbestos need to be trained. This will include how to protect one’s health, how to recognise asbestos, what equipment to use, emergency procedures and waste disposal
- When working at heights in a suspect asbestos area, risk assess for falls or ‘maintenance’ that could cause asbestos to be exposed through breakages
- The workers need to have the correct equipment to work on the different kinds of asbestos materials, for example, working with textured coatings and working with cement containing asbestos are two different asbestos related envirnoments
- Make arrangements for the correct disposal of asbestos waste