Asbestos Can Kill
Sheila Pantry, OBE
"Asbestos-related diseases continue at a high level. Delays of over 40 years from first exposure to diagnosis are common. Although age-specific death rates for mesothelioma are now falling younger people, it is expected that deaths will continue to rise until well into the next century".
This grim message was stated in the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Commission's Plan of work for 1996/1997.
It is essential that asbestos materials must be managed in workplaces and buildings. So it will be necessary, if you own, manage or have responsibilities for a workplace building which may contain asbestos to think about the risk of exposure to workers and others who may use the building. It is your job to manage that risk.
This can be achieved by having an effective management strategy to ensure that you do not put others at risk. A great deal of information, guidance and advice is available from many competent and reliable sources which will help you decide how you should identify, assess and manage any asbestos materials on your premises.
The dangers of asbestos should be appreciated by everyone. Breathing in air containing asbestos dust can lead to asbestos-related diseases which are mainly cancers of the chest and lungs. Asbestos-related diseases are currently killing an estimated 3000 people a year in Great Britain. This number is expected to go on rising into the next century. It is sad fact of life but there is no cure for asbestos-related diseases.
There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease. This can vary between 15-60 years. The vast majority of people now dying were exposed to asbestos during the 1950s and 1960s when the use of asbestos was widespread. But exposure is still occurring. Only by preventing these exposures now, will asbestos-related disease eventually be eradicated.
Who is at risk?
It is known that over a quarter of the people now dying from asbestos-related diseases worked in the building trade. So workers such as carpenters, joiners, electricians, shopfitters, plumbers etc may have breathed in asbestos dust during their day-to-day work with asbestos materials or because work with asbestos was carried out near them. Other workers such as building maintenance workers, shopfitters and carpenters may still be at risk when they carry out refurbishment, repairs, or maintenance work on buildings which contain asbestos.
Other workers, not normally associated with the building trade may also routinely disturb asbestos. For example these could be computer installers, particularly cabling installers, fire alarm installers, window blind fitters, or telecommunication engineers and they also could be at risk.
The scientific evidence on exactly what levels of exposure cause disease is unclear, but it is known that the more asbestos dust inhaled the greater the risk to health. That is why it is important that everyone who works with asbestos know the dangers.
Types of asbestos
There are three main types of asbestos commonly called 'blue' (crocidolite), 'brown' (amosite) and 'white' (chrysotile). All are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos are known to be more hazardous than white. They cannot be identified by their colour alone.
The Law and You
Many countries have regulations about the way asbestos should be controlled. In the UK the law requires employers to prevent the exposure of employees to asbestos. If this is not reasonably practicable the law says their exposure should be controlled to the lowest possible level, and an assessment should be made of the likely exposure of employees to asbestos dust before any work commences. The assessment should include a description of the precautions which are to be taken to control dust release and to protect workers and others who may be affected by that work. If you are employing a contractor to work in your building make sure that either the work will not lead to asbestos exposures or that they have carried out this assessment and identified work practices to reduce exposures.
All workers need to be informed about the dangers, wear a suitable respirator and protective clothing; and take other actions to clean up and dispose of the pieces of asbestos materials correctly. They should also be informed about what not to do.
Seeking guidance and advice
There is an abundance of help available from various organisations in most countries - check with the inspectorates or other competent bodies. In the UK check the telephone directory for the nearest Health and Safety Executive Office where expert Inspectors will be able to give guidance and advice - particularly if a HSE licensed contractor is needed to clear the asbestos from the building or workplace.
Samples of asbestos should only be taken by suitably trained people. They are likely to be suitably trained if the firm they work for is accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS), which was formerly known as the National Measurement Accreditation Service (NAMAS). They are generally listed in the Yellow Pages and other business directories under 'laboratories' or 'analytical research chemists'.
If you need to find publications, the various pieces of legislation you should check the various health and safety compact discs which are available from SilverPlatter (see details below) In particular check the OSH-ROM compact disc which is arguably the world's most comprehensive source of references to health and safety information. OSH-ROM contains a number of databases from authoritative bodies such as the UK Health and Safety Executive, the US National Institute of Safety and Health and the International Labour Office Health and Safety Centre.
For those seeking the full text of publications and legislation then the renowned OSH-CD is the answer. Here you will find all the appropriate legislation from the UK and the European Commission, plus a wide variety of codes of practice, guidance, leaflets and other easy to understand informative documents.
The products mentioned in this article are available for a free trial. Why not try these for yourself and check out the contents of these exciting sources of information against your own workplace needs?
Health and Safety Executive publications:
ASBESTOS ALERT - A WORKERS INFORMATION CARD FOR BUILDING, MAINTENANCE, REPAIR AND REFURBISHMENT WORKERS IND(G)188(P) 1995
ASBESTOS DUST - THE HIDDEN KILLER: ESSENTIAL ADVICE FOR BUILDING MAINTENANCE, REPAIR AND REFURBISHMENT WORKERS IND(G)187(L) 1995
THE CONTROL OF ASBESTOS AT WORK: CONTROL OF ASBESTOS AT WORK REGULATIONS 1987. Approved Code of Practice L27 1993 ISBN 0 11882037 0
WORK WITH ASBESTOS INSULATION, ASBESTOS COATING AND ASBESTOS INSULATING BOARD: CONTROL OF ASBESTOS AT WORK REGULATIONS 1987 Approved Code of Practice L28 1993 ISBN 0 11 882038 9
Department of Environment publications ASBESTOS MATERIALS IN BUILDINGS 1991 ISBN 0 11 752370 4