Before the discovery of its dangers, asbestos was a material previously utilised in buildings for roofing, flooring, insulation and even sprayed onto walls. It was widely used because of it’s light-weight, strength, insulating and fire-resistant properties, as well as being cheap. The use of asbestos in the construction industry was banned in 1999 in the UK. Even though the dangers have been made clear by public bodies, developing countries including Russia, China and India still regularly use asbestos products.
Why is it dangerous?
Asbestos is made of microscopic fibres which, if breathed in, can damage your lungs. However it is not until these fibres are disturbed or damaged and released that they pose a threat. There are four different types of diseases caused by exposure to asbestos fibres – these will not affect an individual straight away. It could potentially be years before they develop and a diagnosis is given. By this time however, it is often too late to provide treatment.
The diseases asbestos causes are:
Mesothelioma – a cancer affecting the pleura (lung lining) and peritoneum (lower digestive tract). By the time it is diagnosed it is almost always fatal and is one of the biggest cause of asbestos related deaths – approx. 2500 a year.
Asbestos-related lung cancer – looks the same as lung cancer from other causes and causes approx. 2500 deaths a year.
Asbestosis – a condition which causes serious scarring of the lungs after exposure over many years. In severe cases it can be fatal – approx. 460 a year.
Pleural thickening – where the lining of the lung becomes thick and swells. It can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.
How could it affect me?
Due to the year of the ban in the UK, any building constructed before the year 2000 may still contain asbestos – this includes an estimated 80% of schools and 94% of NHS trusts.
If left undisturbed, asbestos usually doesn’t present a health risk. Current UK regulations say that rather than removing asbestos from buildings, if it is in a good condition and well protected then it should be maintained ‘in-situ’. However, this has recently come under scrutiny by unions stating that allowing the dangerous material to remain present in an ‘increasing state of decay’ poses a national health crisis to us and our children. There are growing concerns surrounding the dangers of low-level exposure and those working in buildings still containing asbestos.
What can I do to protect myself and those around me?
There are lots of resources online with information on asbestos, some of which are detailed below. Remember that it is only contractors holding an asbestos handling license from the HSE who are permitted to handle the toxic material – never attempt any work yourself!
If you would like more in information on attending one of The Midlands Training Company’s Asbestos Awareness courses, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02476 714873.