Despite its deadly reputation, you can take steps to protect yourself against exposure to asbestos with the portable early warning device ALERT, and once you know it is present, it is possible to work with it quite safely. Asbestos removal should only be carried out by licensed professionals who have the experience, equipment and specialist knowledge to carry out safe asbestos disposal.
Asbestos removal should never be performed by anyone who does not have the training or necessary specialist equipment to perform the job safely. Doing so could put the lives of workers, their families and the general public at risk and can incur heavy penalties including fines and possibly prison.
Where is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos is found almost everywhere. In fact, it is possible that any property built prior to 1999 could contain asbestos: domestic properties, schools, factories, hospitals and shops. This once-popular building material has left a deadly legacy behind, particularly for anyone working in the construction/ demolition or emergency services industries. It is used to lag pipes, as insulation or as a sprayed coating and has a major legacy in the shipbuilding sector – both commercial and military.
Its resistance to fire made it a popular ‘safety’ product and it was used extensively in the 1950s and 60s, before the dangers of exposure to asbestos were fully understood. Today, anyone carrying out repairs, maintenance or demolishing properties built during that era risks being exposed to the long-term dangers of asbestos.
What should I do?
If you suspect that asbestos is present and you are not qualified to work with it, the first thing to do is secure the site and get out! You should then call in the professionals and have the site surveyed. They will test for asbestos and then tell you how to proceed.
But if you have had training in working with asbestos-contaminated sites, there are three steps that should help you to protect yourself against the harmful effects of asbestos – planning, preparation and precautions.
Some properties built before 1999, when asbestos was banned in the UK, may be contaminated with asbestos. If the property you’re working in was built in the 1950s, ‘60s or even the early 1970s then there is a fairly high risk of asbestos contamination. In domestic properties you need to check with the site manager if they have been notified of the presence of asbestos anywhere on site, and if the location is a commercial site, the owner of the property has a duty to inform you of the presence of any suspected asbestos. A few initial checks before work starts are essential. Create a check list that includes the following questions:
Is there a site map or ‘asbestos register’ of the exact location of any suspected asbestos products?
Are the materials asbestos cement, textured coatings and certain other materials which do not need a licence?
Are you using the correct tools (i.e. hand tools and not power tools)?
Have proper safety clothing and masks been provided that can be disposed of after use?
Is the correct cleaning equipment on site, including specialist Class H vacuum cleaners?
Do you have the necessary training and experience to work with and around asbestos?
Licenced or Non-Licenced Work
Almost all of the work with asbestos must be done by a licensed contractor, but there are types of work that may proceed without a license, for example drilling through textured coatings that may contain asbestos. For a full list of the criteria and examples, see the HSE Asbestos Non-Licensed Work page.
Even if asbestos is on site, you may still be able to carry on working as long as a carefully prepared plan of action is put in place. This should include testing for asbestos and determining what type of asbestos you’re dealing with. Once you have determined that the asbestos is inert and it is safe to continue working, the trick to successful operations is to prepare yourself and your operations schedule to factor in the presence of asbestos.
The most important preparation when working in asbestos-contaminated locations is training if your team has been trained to work around asbestos safely then the chances of unintentional exposure is minimised.
As long as you proceed with caution and put in place the correct operating procedure, it is possible to carry on working even in the presence of asbestos. Testing for asbestos should be carried out at the beginning of and during work. By knowing where the asbestos is, you can take extra precautions to make sure it isn’t disturbed. Other precautions include:
Keeping the surface of asbestos paneling damp to prevent asbestos fibres contaminating the atmosphere
Wearing the correct safety clothingUsing the right tools (hand tools, not power tools)
Ensuring everyone on site is aware of and trained to deal with asbestosKeeping an Asbestos Register (See HSE Managing my asbestos) If in doubt, use ALERT and if the alarm sounds, stop work and call in the experts.
The Right Clothing
The right clothing is an essential part of protecting against asbestos exposure. A properly fitted mask (FFP3) should be worn at all times to prevent inhalation of any asbestos dust, and overalls that can be disposed of (Type 5) are preferable. If ordinary overalls are worn, ensure that they are removed before taking off your mask, in case any asbestos fibres on the surface of the overalls are disturbed. Wiping down the surface of the overalls with a damp cloth is the best way of ensuring that asbestos dust is prevented from escaping into the atmosphere. Never take your overalls home to wash – this could put your family at risk of asbestos exposure.
Even the type of boots you wear when working with asbestos is important – never wear boots with laces as the particles can attach to the surface of the lace fabric. If possible, use disposable covers over the top of footwear to prevent asbestos contamination.
What happens if I disturb Asbestos
If left inert, asbestos is relatively harmless. But once the surface has been damaged the fibres can be released into the atmosphere and if inhaled can cause serious and eventually life-threatening illnesses. The ALERT detector would immediately sound an alarm if you disturb asbestos and it detects asbestos fibres in the air.
If you do disturb an asbestos covering or coating, evacuate and secure the area immediately, and call in an expert removal team.
How Alert Can Help
Launching in late 2019, ALERT stands for Asbestos Location Equipment in Real Time. This portable device is the first in the world to give you an instant assessment of the atmosphere and to immediately warn of the presence of asbestos fibres in the air.
Currently the only asbestos testing involves sending a sample to the lab for analysis – a process that takes several days. During this time, site work would be at a standstill.
ALERT gives you an instant warning, allowing you to either get back to work straight away, or call in a professional removal team if the asbestos test is positive.
ALERT works in a similar way to a very sophisticated smoke alarm. It won’t protect you against or prevent asbestos exposure, but it can help to minimise the risks of exposure and could save your life by warning you of the presence of asbestos fibres in the air.
To find out more about ALERT and how it could help you, contact us now for further information.