Last reviewed on 05/11/2012 14:43

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Asbestos fibres

Asbestos fibres can pass into the lungs through the respiratory tract and stay there for many years, causing various health complications. It is for this reason that it is so important to prevent or control an individual's exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos comes in three types: white, blue and brown. Both blue and brown asbestos were banned in 1985 and it is now illegal to use any asbestos in construction or refurbishment, but they can still be found in sprayed coatings, lagging and insulating boards.

Asbestos is found in:

  • fire protection coatings for structural steel, thermal and acoustic insulation, as well as some paints and textured coatings
  • insulating boards and lagging, which can contain up to 85% asbestos, and are the most likely to release fibres
  • asbestos cement, which contains 10-15% asbestos. This is tightly bound, and would give off fibres only if the cement itself was badly damaged or broken.

Managing asbestos

If you find asbestos in your workplace, the first thing to do is assess its condition. If the asbestos is:

  • in good condition, and
  • not likely to be damaged, and
  • not likely to be worked on or disturbed,

it is usually safer to leave it in place and manage it (i.e. check its condition regularly).

On the other hand, if the asbestos is in poor condition, or is likely to be damaged or disturbed, you will need to decide whether it should be repaired, sealed, enclosed or removed. In any case, you should consult a specialist.

According to the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002, you are required to prevent the exposure of your employees to asbestos. Where such prevention is not reasonably practicable, their exposure should be controlled to the lowest possible level.

Risk assessment

When carrying out a risk assessment, you need to bear in mind the following steps:

Find: Check if materials containing asbestos are present.

Condition: Check what condition the material is in.

Presume: Assume the material contains asbestos unless you have strong evidence that it does not.

Identify: If you are planning to have maintenance or refurbishment of the building carried out or the material is in poor condition you may wish to arrange for the material to be sampled and identified by a specialist.

Record: Track the location and condition of the material on a plan or drawing.

Assess: Decide if the condition or the location means the material is likely to be disturbed.

Plan: Prepare and implement a plan to manage these risks.


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