20th Apr, 2019 Read time 2 minutes

What is Asbestos and why is it dangerous?

Asbestos is the blanket term commonly applied to six naturally occurring silicate minerals which are long fibrous crystals. It was used widely as a form of insulation in new builds and refurbishments before the year 2000 but has since been banned from use in the UK and some other countries because of it’s risk to health.

Despite the prohibition of asbestos use for construction in the UK in 1999 many are still affected by its dangers in current workplaces. You are likely to find the substance in many buildings constructed prior to the ban and so it is still something that workers and employers must be aware of. In fact, the material still kills around 5000 workers each year.

Why is it dangerous?

The reason why asbestos is so dangerous to workers is partly due to its widespread use throughout the twentieth century and the impact it has on the human body and in particular, the respiratory system. It was used in commercial and residential properties and is hard to detect without the proper equipment.

The micro-fibres in asbestos minerals are easily inhaled by humans. If the fibres have been disturbed it can lead to a number of fatal health complications. These include:

 

  • Asbestosis

Asbestosis is caused by continuous long term exposure to asbestos. It can cause shortness of breath and can lead to further complications such as lung cancer, and Mesothelioma

 

  • Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. It is caused almost exclusively by long term exposure to asbestos.

 

  • Other forms of cancer

On top of the previously stated health conditions, asbestos can cause other variants of cancer ranging from ovarian to laryngeal cancer.

 

In addition to these diseases asbestos can also cause a host of respiratory problems and the long term effects of exposure are usually not realised until 10-50 years after initial exposure.

What can I do to minimise risk?

The dangers of asbestos have long been known and there are a variety of ways you can look to deal with its potential presence within your working environment.

The level of preventive measures you need to take will depend on the level of exposure your employees will have.

If you are in work where you will be disturbing asbestos-containing materials you will need the notifiable non-licensed work level of information.

Workers who will be carrying out work with a higher risk of asbestos exposure will need training to perform licensable work. This must be conducted with asbestos-licensed contractors.

HSE Network
Article by: HSE Network

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