What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material. It is used as an insulator, has fire protection properties and protects against corrosion.
As asbestos is mixed with other materials, it's hard to know if you are working with it or not. If you work in a building built before the year 2000, it's likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.
Asbestos can be found in ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers, sprayed coatings, corrugated sheeting.
Asbestos can be harmful
Asbestos fibres are narrow and are easily breathed in. Inhaled fibres can cause serious diseases, such as:
- lung cancer
- diffuse pleural thickening
These diseases won't affect immediately but can occur later in life. You should protect yourself now to prevent asbestos related disease in the future. Smokers who are exposed to asbestos fibres are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.
You think you have found asbestos
Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed. If safely managed and contained it doesn't present a health hazard.
If you think you may have asbestos, do not cut, saw or break it up. An officer from Environmental Health will be able to give you advice on disposal.
Homeowners should contact a licensed asbestos contractor. They will sample and analyse the material for asbestos. They should then give advice on the best course of action.
Council tenants should call the Repairs service on 01294 310000.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
- if existing asbestos containing materials are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged, they may be left in place; their condition monitored and managed to ensure they are not disturbed.
- if you're responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises, you have a 'duty to manage' the asbestos in them, to protect anyone using or working in the premises from the risks to health that exposure to asbestos causes.
- if you want to do any building or maintenance work in premises, or on plant or equipment that might contain asbestos, you need to identify where it is and its type and condition; assess the risks, and manage and control these risks.
- the requirements for licensed work remain the same: in the majority of cases, work with asbestos needs to be done by a licensed contractor. This work includes most asbestos removal, all work with sprayed asbestos coatings and asbestos lagging and most work with asbestos insulation and asbestos insulating board (AIB).
- if you are carrying out non-licensed asbestos work, this still requires effective controls.
- 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 from work activities involving asbestos must be reduced to as far below the control limit as possible.
- training is mandatory for anyone liable to be exposed to asbestos fibres at work. This includes maintenance workers and others who may come into contact with or disturb asbestos (for example, cable installers), as well as those involved in asbestos removal. Some non-licensed work needs to be notified to the relevant enforcing authority and brief written records should be kept (for example, a copy of the notification with a list of workers on the job, plus the level of likely exposure of those workers to asbestos).
- all workers/self-employed doing notifiable non-licensed work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a Doctor.
More information is available from the HSE website.