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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre. In the past it was used in vast quantities in many different products. This section give information on the types, uses, risks and management of asbestos.
- Where can asbestos be found?
- What are the risks from asbestos?
- Disposal of asbestos
- What do I need to do
There are three main types Of asbestos:
- Chrysotile (also known as 'white asbestos')
- Amosite (also known as 'brown asbestos')
- Crocidolite (also known as 'blue asbestos')
The import, use and re-use of asbestos products within the UK have now been banned by law. However, vast quantities of asbestos were used in buildings in the past. Much of this material is still there and cannot easily be identified by its appearance.
Asbestos is most likely to be found in buildings that were constructed or refurbished between 1950 and 1980, particularly if the building also has a steel frame and/or it has boilers with thermal insulation. The most common uses of asbestos were:
- As a spray coating on steelwork, concrete walls and ceilings for fire protection and insulation
- As insulating lagging in buildings, on pipe work, and for boilers and ducts
- As asbestos insulating board, used for fire protection in wall partitions, fire doors, ceiling tiles, etc
- As asbestos cement products such as sheeting on walls and roofs, tiles, cold water tanks, gutters, pipes and in decorative plaster finishes
Asbestos-related diseases are currently responsible for about 3,000 deaths per year in Britain. The period between first exposure to asbestos and the first symptoms of disease can vary between 15 and 60 years. The vast majority of people now dying were exposed to asbestos during the 1950s and 1960s, before the current regulations were introduced. Work with asbestos can release small fibres into the air, and breathing in these fibres can cause fatal diseases. Provided the asbestos material is intact and in a position where it cannot be easily damaged, it will not pose a risk to health. The danger to you comes from drilling, cutting, sanding or disturbing materials made from asbestos and breathing in the dust.
There is no cure for asbestos-related diseases.
How does asbestos get into the body?
Although the body's natural defence mechanisms will get rid of most of the larger fibres that can enter the nose and mouth, tiny fibres can pass into the lower parts of the lung.
They can stay there for many years and may work their way through the lung lining. The body naturally gets rid of any asbestos fibres that you might take in with food and water; and asbestos fibres cannot be absorbed through the skin.
Licensed contractors and building contractors must remove the waste they produce from site. Asbestos waste is special waste and particular rules apply to its carriage and disposal.
There is a duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR), which will apply to you if you have responsibilities for maintenance and repair of non-domestic premises, either through a contract or a tenancy agreement or because you own the premises.
This duty, (Regulation 4 of CAR) which came into force in May 2004, requires you to manage the risk from asbestos by:
Finding out if there is asbestos in the premises, how much is present and what condition it is in. If you employ a suitably trained person to do a survey of your premises, you should check their training and experience and that they have appropriate accreditation/certification. Firms are generally listed in the Yellow Pages and other business directories. Those looking at samples are listed under 'Laboratories' or 'Analytical research chemists'. Alternatively you can contact the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) on 0208 9178400 or e-mail them at email@example.com for information on accredited organisations;
Presuming that materials contain asbestos, unless you have evidence to suggest they do not;
Making and keeping up-to-date records of the location and condition of the asbestos containing material (presumed or known) in your premises;
Assessing the risk from the material;
Preparing a plan that specifies how you are going to manage the risk;
Taking the steps needed to put your plan into action;
Reviewing or monitoring your plan and the arrangements made to put it in place; and
Providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it; this will include the emergency services.
Any person who has information on the whereabouts of asbestos in your premises is required to make that information available to you as the dutyholder. Persons who are not dutyholders, but control access to the premises, would have to co-operate with you in managing the risk.