What follows inevitably applies to anybody in a position to be entering an environment which is, potentially, contaminated with asbestos. This applies not just to staff and workforce, but also to visitors and if it’s your premises in question, you hold a responsibility to ensure that all of these people stay healthy.
There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises. These are commonly called:
- ‘blue asbestos’ (crocidolite)
- ‘brown asbestos’ (amosite)
- ‘white asbestos’ (chrysotile)
All of them are dangerous,but blue and brown asbestos are more hazardous than white. You cannot identify them just by their colour.
Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many thousands of tonnes of it were used in the past and much of it is still in place. As long as it is in good condition and is not being or going to be disturbed or damaged there is no risk. But if it is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people can breathe them in.
Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining.
Asbestos is a risk only if asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Over 4 years ago, Asbestos-related diseases killed up to 3000 people a year in Great Britain, and this number is expected to continue rising for the next 10 years. There is no cure for asbsestos-related diseases.
There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease. This can vary from 15 – 60 years. Only by preventing or minimising these exposures now will asbestos-related disease eventually be wiped out.
How can it affect my health? What can it cause?
Asbestos particles are very small, their size can be compared to that of powder. This powder like substance is added to some sort of glue to bind the material together. Once this process is complete it is formed into its shape.
The problem arises with the lapse of time. The glue that once held the asbestos together breaks down releasing the powder, making the particles air born.
Once airborne, normal breathing can draw the asbestos fibers into the body, where they wind up embedding themselves and start to cause damage. Asbestos particles being different from dust are not easily removed by the body, instead they lodge themselves into cells altering those cells into malignant (cancerous) cells that grow consuming the normal ones.
This can lead ultimately to very serious diseases described in the ‘Asbestos Introduction’ page on our website under the heading ‘Health Facts’.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone who uses your premises, who disturbs asbestos that has deteriorated or been damaged and is relesing fibres, can be at risk. In fact, anyone whose work involves drilling, sawing or cutting into the fabric of premises could potentially be at risk. They may all breathe in asbestos fibres during their day to day work. It is now thought possible that repeated low exposures, such as those which would occur during routine repair work, may also lead to cancers.
The scientific evidence on exactly what exposures cause disease is unclear. But we do know the more asbestos fibres breathed in, the greater the risk to health. That is why it is important that asbestos-containing materials are identified and that everyone who works with them should take appropriate precautions.