Toolbox talks: asbestos awareness
We’re proud of our commitment to upholding the absolute best health and safety standards here at Smith Brothers HQ. That’s why our SHEQ manager, Darrell Johnson, hosts monthly ‘toolbox talks’ – with each instalment dedicated to a timely topic.
Already this year, we’ve covered winter driving, occupational health and wellbeing, and COVID-19. Throughout November, we’re taking a closer look at asbestos awareness – and what the Smith Brothers family should be mindful of. Over to you, Darrell…
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance which is still mined in many countries around the world. The name comes from the Greek word αµιαντος (or ‘amiantos’) which translates as ‘inextinguishable’ – fitting perfectly with its fire-resistant properties.
It’s no surprise then, that this fibrous mineral was widely used to provide additional insulation and fire and heat protection within buildings and materials. However, in recent years, it’s become apparent just how dangerous this substance can be to our health.
Breathing in air that contains asbestos fibres has been linked to several diseases, including cancers of the lungs and chest lining. But, the onset of a related illness can occur long after the initial exposure, often with a delay of between 15 to 60 years.
Astonishingly, since 1940, the UK has imported 5.3 million tonnes of raw asbestos fibres up until it was banned in 1999. This means that any pre-2000 building, structure, or equipment could contain this material.
And historic exposure to airborne asbestos fibres is the single largest cause of death to workers in the UK.
Therefore, for those working in construction, it’s something we come across all too often – and it’s vitally important we understand just how hazardous it can be, and how to keep ourselves safe.
Rules, responsibility and regulations
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR) are the main guidelines concerned with the prevention and control of exposure to these dangerous fibres.
The three main types of asbestos are chrysotile (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) and when it comes to the responsibility of managing the risk of such installations, there are usually two sets of duty holders:
Anyone responsible for maintenance and repairs in non-domestic premises. These obligations apply to building owners and require them to identify and manage any asbestos present to prevent risk.
- Employers who carry out any work which is liable to expose employees to asbestos. Firms must identify the presence of any hazardous substances and prepare a risk assessment which addresses the controls.
It must be remembered that asbestos, in good condition and left undisturbed, does not present a risk and the regulations do not require action to be taken. However, a record to mark its presence must be made in case of any future work.