Asbestos Regulations: Everything You Need To Know
Asbestos Regulations: Everything You Need To Know
Asbestos is a building material which was outlawed by UK regulators after researchers and medical officials found that those who worked with it later became seriously ill. What was first called ‘the world's most wonderful mineral’ later caused mass public harm and, despite its incredibly useful properties, is now synonymous with a long list of respiratory illnesses and cancers.
This humble building material, once used for unassuming roof insulation and fireproof floor tiles now demanded much more reverence than it was previously afforded.
In this blog, we will cover:
- What Are The Current Asbestos Regulations?
- What Is Asbestos?
- What Risks Are Posed By Asbestos
- Who Is Responsible For Managing The Risks Of Asbestos?
- Asbestos Risk Assessments and Asbestos Training With HSEDocs
Read on to find out about the asbestos regulations and everything else you’ll need to know to work with asbestos safely with HSEDocs.
Here in the UK, asbestos started being regulated in 1985 as it was seen to cause severe respiratory illnesses. It was still unclear what kind of asbestos causes what illness when the research was still in its infancy, and it was still believed that some asbestos use was safe to work with. With further research, it was found that the risks outweighed the benefits of asbestos use, amending the regulations and banning it entirely in 1999.
The EU Commission made alterations to the UK’s regulations in 2012, updating the regulation of asbestos to modern medical knowledge. To understand why asbestos was outlawed not only in the UK but globally, we should look at asbestos through a microscope to assess its properties on a micro-scale.
Asbestos is a magnesium-based silicate mineral that naturally occurs in the earth's crust. Naturally light and crystalline in structure, asbestos has useful fire-retardant properties, whilst also being a great insulation material. It also can be woven into strands or incorporated into cement to be used as a fortifying agent. For industrial purposes, asbestos was divided into 2 main groups by which it had its properties applied. These two main groups are;
- Serpentine asbestos
- Amphibole asbestos
These versions of asbestos vary at a molecular level. Let’s take a look at each to differentiate the risks posed by both.
Serpentine asbestos, which includes chrysotile asbestos, has long curly fibres that can be woven into fabrics. This variety is used for white asbestos.
Amphibole asbestos, which included actinolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, amosite and crocidolite. These minerals form asbestos fibres that are long, straight and incredibly brittle. This variety of asbestos is used to create blue and brown asbestos.
Asbestos was more commonly used as a roof insulator where it was aerated and sprayed into place.
The use of asbestos occurred in many industries here in the UK. It was easy to work with and commonly available. Asbestos was used in 3 commercial forms for different purposes. These types of asbestos were outlawed at different times, so let's review them individually to see what risks they caused.
Also known as crocidolite asbestos, blue asbestos is the earliest-used variety of the mineral and was commonly found insulating the tanks of steam engines. It is a form of the more dangerous amphibole variety of asbestos.
Blue asbestos is incredibly brittle, meaning that it was easily aerated and posed a significant risk to those who worked with it.
Brown asbestos, a form of amphibole asbestos similar to blue asbestos, was used for industrial purposes and posed a significant risk to those who worked with it. Similarly brittle to blue asbestos, this rudimentary form of asbestos was found to pose a significant risk to people's respiratory health.
Brown asbestos is commonly found in such products as:
- Fireproof floor tiles.
- Reinforced concrete.
- Pipe insulation.
- Thermal insulation.
It is believed that brown asbestos poses the most threat to humans due to its brittle needles and popularity of use. These brittle needles easily break apart when agitated, causing them to become airborne much easier than other types of asbestos.
White asbestos, known as chrysotile asbestos, was used for similar products as brown asbestos and is made of the serpentine variety of the mineral. Its softer fibres mean that its needles don’t become aerated as easily and it poses less of a risk when left alone. White asbestos is less likely to be breathed in when agitated, but its fibres still pose a similar risk to people's lungs as brown asbestos.
Asbestos poses a risk to workers when they disturb asbestos, loosening and aerating the fibres and breathing them in. This causes the following illnesses:
We cover these illnesses at length in our dedicated piece on the matter. Read about Why Asbestos Was Banned In The UK for more information on the harmful effects of asbestos and why the UK sought to regulate its use.
If you manage a team that has to work with asbestos, then you are responsible for their safety with that asbestos and the risks it poses. If you find asbestos when at work, you must report it to your employer or manager and anyone who might be affected by its presence.
If you have been contracted to work in areas where asbestos is present, or you think asbestos is present in your workplace, then there are 6 duties you ought to know and enact throughout your plan when working with asbestos. They are:
Keeping yourself and your staff trained on the risks of asbestos and exposure to it is a key area. HSEDocs provides a Risk Assessment and an Awareness Course which are both catered for asbestos and can be completed quickly and cheaply for both staff and management. This training costs less than £10 per person and takes less than 2 hours to complete.
Identify The Presence Of Asbestos
Identifying asbestos isn’t straightforward and misidentifying asbestos could be costly not only in terms of finances but to people's health, too. Identifying asbestos and how to manage your team's response to it could save lives.
Managing the risk of asbestos should be the result of your risk assessment. The proper issue and use of PPC should be managed by a trained professional.
If you should find asbestos on the site in which you work, you should make effective plans not to disturb that asbestos, or have it removed by licensed contractors.
Duty To Communicate
If you have found asbestos on a building you are working on, it should be your duty to report it. The UK has a portal where you can report finding asbestos, but you also must report it to others working on-site. As a manager, you should incentivise your workers to report asbestos to you and you should plan and manage this risk accordingly.
Once you have identified and set in place a strategy for working with asbestos, you should review this strategy every time plans change. Since the dangers of asbestos change once it has been disturbed, the risks at play can change in a matter of seconds.
It is only by a thorough review of your safety procedures that working with asbestos can be managed.
Since asbestos was used so frequently throughout the past 100 years, working with it is common. Finding measures to control asbestos are therefore difficult. It is important to identify areas and buildings where asbestos has been used and then determine how to work with it safely. This requires a risk assessment.
Provided by HSEDocs, an asbestos risk assessment will help those responsible keep their workers safe by identifying asbestos and avoiding any unnecessary work to the asbestos, or if work must take place, do so safely.
The assessment is £8.99 to download and it is yours to keep. It could potentially save lives and significantly reduce asbestos exposure for you and the people who you work with.
Others who work with asbestos should carry out an Asbestos Awareness Course to help them safely identify asbestos and work with reduced risks of asbestos exposure.
Completion of this course gives the person who takes the test a recognised certificate in asbestos awareness and costs just £4.99. Completion of the course should lead your team members to be able to work with asbestos, opening up the potential for work on older buildings and with many historic materials.