Asbestos: the fatal fibres
Asbestos is the greatest single work-related cause of death in the UK with over 4,000 asbestos-related deaths each year.
This naturally occurring fibrous mineral was used for fireproofing and insulation in non-commercial buildings before it proved to cause serious, often fatal diseases if inhaled.
The most dangerous blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1984 whilst the import and use of white asbestos has been prohibited since 1999. There are still an estimated 500,000 non-domestic premises that contain some form of asbestos, but most experts agree this only poses a risk if it is disturbed or damaged enough to release fibres into the air.
The three main asbestos-related conditions are asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Those most at risk are the 1.8 million building maintenance workers in the UK. However, there have also been cases of asbestos-related disease after prolonged contact with the material, for example; it was claimed recently in a high court writ that a former prep school teacher died from malignant mesothelioma after prolonged exposure to asbestos-lagged pipes.
Building owners and those in control of non-domestic premises have a duty to manage the asbestos-containing materials (ACM) within their buildings by formulating an asbestos management plan.
- identifying whether buildings have ACM
- assessing the risk from each occurrence
- having a process to manage the ACM
Any work on ACM is regulated by the need for additional risk assessments prior to work taking place, control measures to prevent the spread of asbestos and evidence of training and competency.
Work on some ACM may be restricted to HSE-licensed companies. They must follow a notification procedure and carry out the work inside segregated work areas using specially trained operatives who undergo medical surveillance.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2006 is the single statutory instrument dealing with asbestos in the UK.
The main parts are as follows:
- Risk assessments to be undertaken and plans of work to be prepared for all work on asbestos
- Work becomes licensable, notifiable and workers subject to medical surveillance if the control limit will be exceeded
- Control limit for all types of asbestos is 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre (f/cm3) of air measured over eight hours
- There is no requirement for licensing, notification or medical surveillance if worker exposure is judged to be ‘sporadic and of low intensity’. This is defined as being below the control limit and comprises of:
- short, non-continuous maintenance activities
- removal of non-degraded materials firmly linked in a matrix
- encapsulation or sealing of ACM in good condition
- air and bulk sampling
- Awareness training should be given to those whose work may disturb the fabric of the
- Selection of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is based on reducing exposure as low as reasonably practical, not just below the control limit
Asbestos management key action points
- Assess the likelihood of ACM in your premises
- Decide whether a survey is needed
- Incorporate the survey information into an Asbestos Management Plan
- Make this information available to anyone on site who may need it, e.g. contractors
- Keep the information up to date
- Assess whether removal or repair work will require a licensed or non-licensed contractor
- Seek specialist advice if unsure of any of the above requirements