Posted on March 16, 2016

What is Asbestos?

It causes around 5000 deaths every year. It is all around us, and most of us have heard of it but what actually is asbestos? 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material with excellent insulation properties, which was extensively used in construction from the 1950s until the late 1990s, and comes in various different forms (with different levels of risk). It can be found in any building built before the year 2000 and if disturbed some of the types of asbestos can be a killer. The most lethal types (brown and blue asbestos) were used as an insulant – around pipes and beams and looks similar to modern day mineral wool insulation. However asbestos is also found in vinyl floortiles, and wall boarding materials, ceilings, and more.

 Why is Asbestos dangerous? When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. These fibres have backward facing barbs on them so that if they are inhaled they can only travel further into your respiratory system. Over time this can then create inflammation which can result in asbestosis– a form of cancer which currently has no cure. Asbestos related illness will often take decades to develop after exposure, and so the scale of health risk was only becoming known after asbestos had already been widely used and many people had already been exposed. And that is why it is important to protect yourself now.

 What should I do if asbestos is present on site?

If you come across suspected asbestos while working on site, stop work immediately and carry out a risk assessment to determine if the work requires a licensed contractor.

 How should I dispose of Asbestos waste?

Asbestos waste should only be handled by approved and certified contractors. It has to be removed in a controlled manner by personnel wearing the correct protective equipment. It has to be placed in suitable packaging to prevent any fibres being released, be double wrapped and labelled appropriately. You should use a red inner bag marked up with asbestos warning labels and then a clear outer bag with appropriate hazard warnings. Any intact asbestos sheets should not be broken up into smaller pieces, they should be wrapped as they are in polythene sheeting and labelled appropriately.

Asbestos waste should be handled only by a licensed disposal site. Your local authority can provide details of these for you.

 What should I do if I think I have been exposed to Asbestos?

Understandably people who believe they have been exposed to asbestos are worried about the possible effect on their health. Most cases of inadvertent exposure will lead to minimal exposure to fibres and be unlikely to suffer any long-term ill health effects. However if you consider that you may have been put at risk of asbestos inhalation it would be advisable to contact a health professional as soon as possible.

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