Asbestos is a dangerous material used in various trades throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the restrictions and banning of its use in the late 20th century, many buildings today still contain it.
Those working within the trades industry are at high risk of coming into contact with asbestos.
With the consequences being severe and sometimes fatal diseases if fibres are released and inhaled, workers must be aware of the risks and preventative measures to keep themselves safe and reduce the risk of related health issues.
What Is It?
Asbestos is a term used for six naturally occurring minerals. Not immediately identifiable and often mixed with other materials, education is vital to ensure safety around the dangerous material.
Where Can You Find Asbestos?
You can find asbestos in industrial and residential properties, usually built or refurbished before 2000 and traditionally used as fire, sound, and acid-resistant material. For example, you’ll typically find it in ceiling tiles, roofing, floor tiles, pipe cement, and insulation for boilers, pipes, and sheeting.
The History Of Asbestos
Asbestos’ first recorded use was in 2500 BC. Humans have since used it for thousands of years. However, the use of the material didn’t become popular in the UK until the industrial revolution in the 1800s, which saw asbestos use increase.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that researchers noticed a common link between lung problems and asbestos exposure. Researchers noted that those working with the material were dying at an unnaturally young age. The UK passed laws in 1931 to increase ventilation. However, asbestos use continued and was highest between 1940 and 1947.
By the 1980s, many countries banned or began to phase out the use of the material.
The UK banned the import and use of blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos in 1985. By 1992, the UK had also prohibited the use of white (chrysotile) asbestos. However, the substance is still present in several buildings, so the risk of contracting an asbestos-related illness remains.
What Illnesses Can It Cause?
Illnesses linked to asbestic include:
Mesothelioma – A type of cancer that commonly develops in the layers of tissue covering each lung but can develop in many internal organs.
Asbestos-related lung cancer – A type of cancer caused by fibres lodged in the lung tissue. The fibres cause irritation and scarring that can develop into tumours over time.
Asbestosis – A long-term lung condition caused by prolonged exposure, can be managed with careful medical treatment.
Pleural Thickening – A lung disease where scarring thickens the lining of the lungs.
Who Is Most At Risk?
A recent report concluded that approximately 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of experiencing the dangerous side-effects created by asbestos. On average, 20 tradespeople die each week due to exposure to the mineral. Occupational Safety and Health uncovered that one in four construction workers claimed to have been exposed to asbestos. Yet, a staggering two-thirds of those were unaware of the cancer-causing risk of the material.
Electricians, Plumbers and Gasfitters are at high risk for asbestos-related illnesses as it is common in gas and heating appliances in properties. In addition, those in these trades could likely encounter asbestos on electrical, oil, solid fuel or gas installations.
Laggers should be particularly cautious as they once applied large asbestos sheets to pipes and boilers. Unfortunately, the health effects and implications don’t always show themselves immediately.
Those involved with the renovation, repair, or demolition of older buildings are highly likely to contact asbestos. Many buildings built before 1977 may contain the material to some level.
Mechanics are at high risk of encountering asbestos, especially when undertaking clutch and brake replacements. Estimates reveal that in heating engineers born in the 1940s who have worked in the industry for at least ten years, 1 in 50 is at risk of asbestos-related diseases.
The use of asbestos continued until the 1970s, often used to insulate boilers and pipes in domestic and commercial properties.
What Can You Do For Protection?
When working in a building, mainly those built before 2000, it’s essential to look for any record of asbestos materials.
If you encounter asbestos, stop what you are doing and leave the area. Seal it off and don’t allow others to enter the space. Remove and dispose of the clothing worn in a safe place, and do not attempt to enter the area again.
Contact asbestos abatement professionals immediately if you encounter the material or anticipate doing so.
Avoid touching and handling asbestos without adequate protection. That means wearing disposable overalls, rubber gloves and boots, goggles and high-level breathing protection.
For further information, visit Health and Safety Executive.
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