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Written by Steve Sadley, Chief Executive of ARCA
Asbestos is the single greatest cause of
work related deaths in Great Britain. There
is no cure for the main asbestos-related
diseases. However, asbestos is only a risk
to health if asbestos fibres are released in
to the air and breathed in. The fibres are
long and fine and when inhaled can lodge
in the tissue of the chest resulting in three
main fatal diseases, mesothelioma, a cancer
of the lining around the lungs or the
stomach which is always fatal, Lung cancer,
usually fatal and Asbestosis, a scarring of
the lung leading to shortness of breath
which is very disabling and can be fatal.
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Asbestos must still be considered as an
important issue for all those charged with
responsibilities for facilities management
or maintenance. The Health & Safety
Executive estimates that over 1.5 million
commercial buildings still contain asbestos
materials, and that 60% of all asbestos
imported into the UK has been used to
produce building materials. Asbestos is
Use of asbestos has been known for over
likely to be present in a building if it was
2,000 years. Its natural form is found in rock
constructed between 1940 and 1980, and
and it is virtually indestructible, relatively
can sometimes be found in buildings
cheap, and plentiful. As asbestos can be
constructed in the 1990’s.
used for sound and heat insulation and
also to add strength to other materials, it
The main uses of asbestos are, or have
leant itself readily to the manufacture of a
been: as a reinforcing agent in asbestos
wide range of products. However, exposure
cement sheeting used on walls and roofs;
to asbestos fibres causes asbestos-related
in asbestos cement building products, such
diseases, which are often fatal.
as tile, cold water tanks, pipes and gutters;
in insulating board used as wall partitions,
There are three types of asbestos which
fire doors, ceiling tiles, etc.; in yarns and
were extensively used in Great Britain,
textiles, in lagging and in sprayed coatings
Crocidolite ‘blue asbestos’, Amosite ‘brown
for insulation and decorative purposes.
asbestos’ and Chrysotile ‘white asbestos’.
Employers of building maintenance and
Stringent legislation has been put in place
repair workers are required to carry out a
to regulate the removal of asbestos when
risk assessment before undertaking any
it is discovered. The HSE feel that the only
work which exposes, or is liable to expose,
major potential for exposure that exists
employees to asbestos. They must take the
today, which is not adequately addressed
appropriate steps required by the Asbestos
by legislation, is to anyone using premises,
Regulations to prevent or reduce these
who disturbs asbestos that has deteriorated
risks. However in many cases the employers
or has been damaged and is releasing fibres.
and their workers have little or no
In fact anyone whose work involves drilling,
information about the premises where
sawing or cutting into the fabric of a building
they are going to undertake work, and are
could potentially be at risk. It is now
asbes
not aware if asbestos containing materials
thought possible that repeated low
are present. Consequently, it is difficult for
exposures, such as those that could occur
them to consider the risks, or if precautions
through routine maintenance work, may
may be needed. A duty to manage the risk
also lead to asbestos related diseases.
from asbestos in non-domestic premises
It is generally acknowledged that crocidolite
was therefore added to the Control of
and amosite are more hazardous than
Asbestos at work Regulations in 2002 to
chrysotile, but all are designated as class
address this. These requirements have
1 carcinogens meaning that they have
since been brought forward unchanged in
been proven to cause cancer in humans.
ENVIRONMENT INDUSTRY MAGAZINE
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