Asbestos at Work
Last Updated on 4 July 2023
Can you find asbestos at work?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to find asbestos at your place of work. In many cases, when we think about work, we think about being inside a building. That could be an office block, supermarket, factory or anywhere at all we receive payment for employment.
But work can also be carried out in fields, buildings sites, refuse sites and again, absolutely anywhere, where asbestos could be lurking.
Under the HASWA 1974 (Health & Safety at Work Act 1974) and CAR 2012 (Control of asbestos regulations 2012), your employer has a legal responsibility to protect you (the employee) from asbestos. Likewise, If you are self employed, the same rules apply to protect yourself and others from exposure to asbestos.
Looking back over time, asbestos use was almost ubiquitous across the built environment from the 1950’s to the late 1970’s. The use of asbestos wasn’t banned until late 1999, and as a result, our survey teams will find asbestos in the majority of buildings built before this time.
Subsequently, asbestos can be found in buildings, development sites, refuse sites and anywhere the supply, manufacture, use and eventual removal and disposal of asbestos occurred historically.
Asbestos containing materials are more common than you think
Most people are not aware of the sheer volume of asbestos that was imported into the UK and used in the manufacture of products. Any product manufactured with asbestos we refer to as an asbestos containing material, or ACM for short.
There is no definitive list of these products that have been manufactured with asbestos, but the general consensus is that there are around 4000 different types of product in our built environment.
In fact, the risk from exposure may not seem relevant to most people in most occupations. However, if we look at the risk and the end result of exposure (potentially death), we can see that asbestos is still not only the largest occupational cause of death in the UK, but per capita, we have the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world.
What to do if you find asbestos at work?
Above all, If you feel that you have discovered asbestos at work, it is critical that you follow the proper protocols to safeguard your safety and the safety of others. Moreover, here are the steps you should take:-
- Cease working: Firstly, If you believe that you have discovered asbestos, immediately stop work in the affected area and cordon off the area to prevent others from accessing it.
- Notify your employer: Secondly, Inform your employer or supervisor as soon as possible so that necessary action may be taken. Your company is required by law to handle the dangers linked with asbestos in the workplace.
- Obtain guidance from a trained expert: Next, you should seek advice from a competent asbestos specialist who can conduct a survey of the area to identify the amount of the asbestos and offer advise on how to properly handle or remove it.
- Follow the proper procedures: If asbestos is discovered, your company must prepare a strategy for handling or removing the asbestos. This will entail adhering to specific processes to guarantee the safe removal and disposal of the asbestos, and may necessitate the engagement of professional contractors.
- Follow stringent health and safety protocols: Finally, It is critical to follow strict health and safety standards while working to reduce the danger of asbestos fibre exposure. This may involve wearing protective gear, employing specialist equipment, and ensuring that the location is well-ventilated.
In summary, It’s crucial to remember that asbestos may be highly dangerous to your health and should only be handled by skilled specialists who use necessary safety precautions. Therefore, If you feel that you have discovered asbestos in the workplace, you should seek the assistance of a trained asbestos specialist as soon as possible.
How can we protect ourselves from asbestos in the workplace?
We already know that the employer has a legal responsibility (Regulations 5 of the CAR 2012). Additionally, If you are potentially at risk from asbestos, then the employer also has a responsibility to ensure any work you conduct on their behalf is safely planned (Regulation 6 of the CAR 2012).
Your employer then has a further responsibility to ensure you are appropriately trained. This is known as ‘asbestos awareness training’ and is covered under Regulation 10 of the CAR 2012.
For most places of work, the starting point is the identification (survey) and management of asbestos within a workplace. This is covered under Regulation 4 of the CAR 2012. The quickest and simplest way of understanding where asbestos is present in or at your workplace is to ask to see a copy of the asbestos survey and any relevant asbestos management plan (AMP). The relevant type of survey here is a ‘management asbestos survey’.
If your employer does not have one of these available, then they may be breaking the law. Anything built prior to 2000 should have some form of asbestos information to allow the safe occupation of a premises. If you work for an employer who sends you to work in multiple locations, then the same rules apply.
If you undertake any work in refurbishment or demolition for your employer, then a different type of asbestos survey is required. This is known as a ‘refurbishment/ demolition asbestos survey‘. The laws and regulations in the UK are pretty robust and ignorance from employers is not a valid excuse in the eyes of the law.