Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that are fibrous in structure. These minerals are found in various parts of the world and have been commercially mined. Asbestos containing rock is crushed and milled to produce raw asbestos. The raw asbestos is then added to various products to improve there overall properties; strength, heat resistance, chemical resistance, electrical resistance, sound absorption.
There are six types of Asbestos which fall into two category’s Serpentine (curly fibres) and Amphibole (needle like fibres). The three most common types:
The three rarer types:
Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals). Asbestos was added to thousands of products:
Roof sheets, roof tiles, roof felt, guttering, downpipes, flue pipes, water tanks, loose fill insulation, ceiling tiles, Artex to walls/ceilings, partition walls, toilet cisterns, sink pads, pipe insulation, fuse guards, bath panels, window sills, soffit boards, floor tiles, bitumen adhesive, pipe gaskets, sprayed fire protection, fire blankets, fire doors, rope seals, damp proof course, backing board to electrics, infill panels, paper backing.
When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious diseases. Asbestos in good condition poses no significant health risks.
Asbestos diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, between 15-60 years, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. It’s estimated that asbestos is the cause of 5000 deaths every year. Exposure to asbestos can cause four main diseases:
Individuals who are likely to disturb Asbestos are most at risk, these individuals typically work in construction and maintenance such as builders, plumbers, electricians. However, individuals can also be affected if they are in the vicinity of the works when Asbestos materials are disturbed if the correct control measures are not in place.
Many cases of inadvertent, short term exposure to Asbestos will most likely have led to minimal exposure to Asbestos fibres, with little likelihood of any long term health effects. Some asbestos containing materials release fibres more easily than others e.g. insulation, insulating board, and certain work activities are more likely to create significant asbestos fibres in the air e.g. use of power tools, cutting, breaking materials. If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos, you are advised to consult your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record including dates, types of asbestos, duration of the work, details of exposure.
You should stop work immediately, confirm what the material is or assume it is Asbestos and carry out a risk assessment.
Homeowners do not have a legal duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to manage asbestos risks in private houses, however you should always inform anyone carrying out work on your property about any known asbestos containing materials.
Where work involves asbestos containing materials then the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 will apply, particularly Regulation 11 ‘Prevention or reduction of exposure to asbestos’ and Regulation 16 ‘Prevent or reduce the spread of asbestos’.
No, asbestos containing materials that are in good condition pose no significant health risks, therefore, it is often better to leave them in place and ensure they remain in good condition. Alternatives to removal include encapsulation, sealing the material with a protective coating or enclosing, overboard the materials or seal off the area.
If you are responsible for maintenance (the Dutyholder), for non-domestic premises constructed prior to the year 2000, then you have a responsibility under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to protect anyone using or working in the premises from the risks to health that exposure to asbestos causes. The regulations specify that an ‘Asbestos Management Plan’ should be produced to detail how the risks from asbestos containing materials will be managed.
An ‘Asbestos Survey’ is the process by which asbestos containing materials are identified and recorded for a building and forms part of the asbestos management plan and is used to produce the Asbestos Register.
There are two types of survey:
An ‘Asbestos Register’ identifies the latest information on any asbestos containing materials located in a building. The register is a live document and should be updated to reflect the latest condition of any materials, when items are removed and when additional surveying/sampling is carried out. If materials are found to have been damaged or deteriorated, then action should be taken.
Work on particular asbestos containing materials can only be carried out by a company who holds a licence issued by the HSE ‘Licenced Asbestos Removal Contractor’, this is due to the hazardous nature of these higher risk materials. All work with sprayed asbestos coatings, asbestos insulation (lagging) and most work with asbestos insulating board (AIB) should be carried out by a licenced contractor.
Work involving lower risk asbestos containing materials, such as cement and vinyl products, does not require a licence as exposure to asbestos fibres from the work is not expected to present a significant risk, provided the correct precautions are followed and the individuals are suitably trained.
The HSE have produced a series of task sheets and guidance on the appropriate controls to be in place and methods to follow for non-licensed works. These are available from the HSE website.
The control limit refers to the concentration of asbestos fibres in the air, and is measured and averaged over a continuous four hour period. The control limit for asbestos is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). The control limit is not a ‘Safe’ level and exposure and work involving asbestos should be designed to be as far below the control limit as possible.
An asbestos enclosure is a purpose built temporary structure constructed of 1000 gauge polythene to timber frames which is used to control and contain airborne asbestos fibres during the removal of higher risk asbestos containing materials such as sprayed asbestos coatings, asbestos insulation (lagging) and asbestos insulating board (AIB). Enclosures generally consist of, the work area ‘enclosure’ a three stage air lock for entering and exiting the work area, a three stage baglock for removal of the asbestos waste, negative pressure units that change and filter the air within the work area.
Asbestos air monitoring is used to detect the level of asbestos fibres within the atmosphere. A known amount of air is drawn through a filter, the filters are then examined through a microscope to calculate the level of asbestos fibres with the sample. Air monitoring is utilised to assess the fibre levels generated by the removal works and to ensure that levels are of a safe limit for the areas to be reoccupied. Air monitoring also assess the effectiveness of dust suppression methods, the integrity of any asbestos enclosures, that the appropriate level of respiratory protection has been chosen, to provide data for employee exposure records.
A four stage clearance is carried out by the analyst working along side the licenced asbestos removal contractor to ensure that asbestos materials have been removed correctly and to ensure the area is safe for reoccupation. The four stages are: