There are many occupations and trades whose workers are at risk of exposure to asbestos. These include:
Construction and roof workers
Painter and decorators
General maintenance workers
Fire and security alarm, installers and engineers
Invisible to the unaided human eye.
Generally between 3-20 micrometres in length.
Can be as thin as 0.1 micrometre.
One fibre can split and be the source of many smaller, thinner fibres.
They become airborne easily and small enough to be respirable.
– The fibres fall into two categories:
Curly and wavy (serpentine)
Needle-like and barbed (amphibole)
For comparison purposes a human hair is 100 micrometers (100 microns) in width.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals.
First imported into the UK in the 1860s.
By the mid 1900s it was used in many building products (Asbestos Containing Materials – ACM’s) and extensively in the construction industry.
Use peaked between 1950s and 1980s.
Although its use has been banned from 1999 there are millions of premises that still contain asbestos.
Properties of asbestos include:
Resistant to heat.
Resistant to chemicals.
High electrical resistance.
Good sound absorption.
High tensile strength.
Asbestos is not a threat to health unless an asbestos containing material (ACM) becomes damaged or is in poor condition.
Once damaged, fibres contained within the asbestos can be released.
These fibres are very small and are easily inhaled into and affect the respiratory system.
If inhaled, these airborne fibres can become embedded in the lungs for many years.
They cannot be removed by the body’s defence mechanism, therefore may cause asbestos related diseases.
Why is Asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road.
Around 20 tradesman die each week as a result of past exposure.
However, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000.
When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now.