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The risk of asbestos exposure

Last Updated on 28 September 2021

asbestos exposure construction workers

Exposure to asbestos is more common than you may realise

Asbestos exposure is very common and means that most humans around the world have been (or will be) exposed to this harmful substance at some stage throughout the course of their life.

This could be because the mining of asbestos releases fibres into the weather system around the globe, or the extensive industrial use of asbestos over the last 100 years.

Asbestos has been a component in over 4000 building products across the built environment.

As an asbestos surveying company we find asbestos containing materials ACM’s on average in 80% of buildings we survey.

The level of exposure individuals receive can vary greatly from low levels infrequently, to extensive quantities over a long period. Asbestos is still the greatest cause of occupational disease and death across the planet.

The World Health organisation, WHO, state “There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos”.

What are the health risks of being exposed to asbestos?

Exposure can come in a number of ways, the most common of which is inhalation (breathing in). Once asbestos fibres have been released and become airborne they can be taken into the lungs.

When in the lungs, asbestos fibres can cause scarring (Asbestosis), usually resulting from heavy exposure.

Pleural plaques can develop which are small areas of thickened tissue in the lung lining, or pleura. They typically develop 20 – 30 years after prolonged exposure.

Mesothelioma is directly associated with being exposed to asbestos, and in many cases, being heavily exposed is not required in order to develop the disease.

Asbestos related disease Mesothelioma accounts for around half of all deaths in the UK from asbestos, and is equally one of the most avoidable and least survivable types of cancer.

Asbestos can also be ingested as it lands on food or enters the alimentary canal through the mouth. Although diseases relating to being exposed in this manner are relatively rare.

What are the different types of asbestos exposure?

We usually divide exposure into two main groups. Primary exposure is directly as a result of the work you are doing which may include manufacturing, transporting, working with or damaging ACM’s.

There is also Secondary exposure which can arise through building or demolition work occurring around where you live or work.

This can also be caused by someone who is exposed on a primary basis bringing home work clothes that are dirty and then exposing family members.

School children and teachers can get secondary exposure from the presence of asbestos within their schools if any that exists isn’t managed properly.

school children at risk of asbestos exposure

School children are potentially at risk of secondary exposure to ACM’s whilst at school

How can I protect myself and others from asbestos exposure?

No medical quantification is available that determines the exact risk from being exposed to asbestos. All we know is that the greater the exposure, the greater the risk, and for some people, a small exposure may be enough to kill them.

The key is to avoid being unnecessarily exposed in the first place, and this can be achieved in a number of ways:-

  • Having asbestos surveys carried out in buildings and registering the information (asbestos register)
  • Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (P.P.E.) when working with asbestos containing materials (ACM’s)
  • Asbestos management – ensuring it is looked after on a daily basis and that people are made aware of its presence in buildings
  • And finally, training. Asbestos Training should be provided to those who may come into contact with asbestos as part of their work or to those who supervise them.

Employers must adhere to regulations to prevent employees being exposed to ACM’s

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 covers all the legal duties that employers, building owners and those in charge of maintenance in buildings must abide by.

The rules on asbestos in the UK apply to all non-domestic buildings built before asbestos was completely banned in late 1999.

Many small builders think the asbestos regulations do not apply to them as they may only work in domestic premises, but this is not the case.

They still have a legal duty to protect themselves, their workforce and any tenants or householders.

If you have the legal duty to manage asbestos, protect your staff, contractors or premises of any kind, then it is incumbent on you to comply with the law.

If you need any expert advice relating to asbestos compliance or how to avoid exposure at work, then please contact us on 0800 141 2676, email us at info@rbasbestos.co.uk or fill in the form below.

We are more than happy to give free advice to those who need it.

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