Asbestos is a dangerous material that was commonly used in various different trades for a number of years throughout the 19th and 20th century. 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. If the fibres are released and inhaled, it can lead to serious and sometimes fatal diseases. Because of this, it is incredibly important that workers are aware of the risks and preventative measures they can take to keep themselves safe and reduce the risk of related health issues.
What Is It?
Asbestos is a term used for six minerals. All naturally occurring, they have a long and thin structure and are known to be carcinogenic. The risk comes when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and the fibres are released into the air. It’s not always easy to identify asbestos as it is often mixed with other materials, so education is essential.
Where Is It Found?
Asbestos is commonly found in both industrial and residential properties, usually, those built or refurbished before 2000. Traditionally, it was used as a fire, sound and acid resistant material and can be found in ceiling tiles, roofing, floor tiles, pipe cement and as insulation for boilers, pipes and sheeting.
The History Of Asbestos
Asbestos has been used by humans for thousands of years, with the first recorded use dating back to 2500 B.C. Use of the material int he UK didn’t become popular until the industrial revolution in the 1800’s, which saw a huge increase in asbestos being used.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that researches noticed a common link between lung problems and those exposed to asbestos. Those working with the material were noted to be dying at an unnaturally young age. In 1931, laws were passed to increase ventilation, however, asbestos was still being used on a large scale and causing undeniable illnesses and deaths. From 1940 – 197-, it’s believed that asbestos use was at its highest.
Worldwide, by the 1980’s the use of asbestos was restricted, phased out or banned in many countries.
The import and use of blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos were banned in the UK in 1985. By 1992, the used of white (chrysotile) asbestos was also banned. However, the substance is still present in a number of buildings, which is why there is a still a risk of people contracting an asbestos-related illness.
What Illnesses Can It Cause?
Asbestos has been linked to illnesses including:
Mesothelioma – a type of cancer that commonly develops in the layers of tissue covered each lung but can develop in many of the internal organs.
Asbestos-related lung cancer – A type of cancer caused by fibres being lodged in the lung tissue, causing irritation and scarring that can develop into tumours over time.
Asbestosis – A long-term lung condition, caused by prolonged exposure that 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?
From a recent report, it came out that approximately 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of experiencing the dangerous side-effects created by asbestos. It’s said that 20 tradespeople die each week as a result of exposure to the mineral. Occupational Safety and Health carried out research that uncovered that one in four construction workers claiming to have been exposed to asbestos, and a staggering two-thirds of those were unaware of the cancer-causing risk of the material.
Electricians, Plumbers and Gasfitters are at high-risk when it comes to asbestos-related illnesses as it is common in gas and heating appliances in properties. It’s likely that those in these trades could encounter asbestos on electrical, oil, solid fuel or gas installations.
Laggers should be particularly cautious as they once applied asbestos to pipes, boilers and lay it as large sheets. 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 come into contact with asbestos. Many buildings built before 1977 are believed to contain asbestos to some level.
Mechanics are at a high risk of encountering environments made dangerous due to asbestos. This included when undertaking work such as clutch and brake replacements.
It’s estimated that of the heating engineers born in the 1940’s and who have worked in the industry for at least ten years, 1 in 50 are at risk of a disease that is related to asbestos. The mineral was used up until the 1970’s to insulate boilers and pipes in both homes and commercial properties.
What Can You Do For Protection?
When working in a building, particularly those built before 2000, it’s important to look for previous records of asbestos materials.
If you do 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.
Asbestos abatement professionals should be contacted if you encounter the material, or anticipate doing so
Asbestos should never be touched or handled 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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