A brief guide to asbestos

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Asbestos is the greatest cause of work-related death in the UK and when found in non-domestic premises must be dealt with according to very specific regulations. At Bradley-Mason LLP, we conduct thorough asbestos surveys in a quick, professional manner, adhering to the most recent asbestos legislation. We understand the threat asbestos can cause not only to your commercial property but to you and your workforce too, so we make it our prerogative to inform you of all you need to know about it…

 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name for a variety of silicate materials that are fibrous in structure and more resistant to fire and acid than other materials – hence their common use for thermal insulation, fireproofing, electrical insulation, building materials and the like. Asbestos can exhibit physical and chemical resistance to high temperatures as it is made up of fibrous strands that split into smaller and thinner fibres as it is disturbed. These strands can become so microscopic that they can travel undetected through the respiratory dust defences, a process that can be incredibly harmful to your physical health.

 

History

Asbestos has been used for thousands of years, first by the Ancient Greeks who gave it the name meaning ‘inextinguishable’. The Greeks did notice its harmful biological effects as they reported experiencing a ‘sickness of the lungs’, but were in such awe of its capabilities they ignored it. It was extensively used as building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid 1980s, primarily for fireproofing and insulation, meaning that any building built before 2000 (as the use of asbestos containing material in buildings was then banned) can contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when the materials are disturbed.

 

Why it is so dangerous

Asbestos fibres are present in the environment, so we are all exposed to very low levels of it, but the seriousness develops when the number of fibres breathed in increases. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres can increase your chances of developing an asbestos-related disease. These diseases are unlikely to affect you immediately but will in later life, which is why even though the material is no longer used, it is still causing problems for those who were working with or in contact with it decades ago.

 

Your duty to manage

If you are responsible for the maintenance of non-domestic premises, you will have a duty to manage the asbestos in them and to protect those working in the premises from the health risks that asbestos can cause. The duty holder must take steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos and what condition it is in, keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of asbestos, assess the risk of those exposed to it, prepare a plan of how it will be managed and provide all information to those who are liable to work on or disturb such materials.

 

What to remember

Asbestos is only dangerous if it is disturbed, if it is safely managed and contained, it should not present a health hazard. Do not remove asbestos unnecessarily: removing it can be more dangerous than leaving it in place. An asbestos survey can help you to determine whether or not your building and your workers are at risk and if the material needs to be removed by a licensed contractor. At Bradley-Mason LLP, we can add value to an asbestos survey by combining the survey with other services such as an acquisition report or compliance audit. See how we can help save you time and money by getting in touch with us, today.

 

A history of asbestos

Today, everyone knows – or at least thinks they know – about the substance known as asbestos. It’s widely believed to be one of those follies from a less enlightened time, where construction and renovation was approached with a sense of ‘how can we get this done cheaply and quickly’ rather than ‘how can we do this job safely and well.’ Asbestos, however, has been around for far longer than many people realise and has properties that make it a truly incredible substance. So why did people once use asbestos, how did it come about in the first place and why did we decide to abandon it after all? Take a look at our brief history of the substance to find out the answers to all of those questions and more besides…

 

The need for insulation

For as long as there have been humans, there has been a need for insulation. Keeping the cold out in the depths of winter can mean the difference between life and death, and our ancient ancestors found many inventive ways to do just that. The first people to recognise the insulating properties of asbestos were the ancient Greeks, who dubbed the material ‘unquenchable’ or ‘inextinguishable.’ By the middle part of the 20th century, those same properties had seen asbestos used as an insulator and flame retardant in domestic and commercial properties all around the globe.

 

A wondrous new substance

On the surface, asbestos appeared to be a marvellous substance indeed. Not only did its silicate structure of ultra-fine fibres make it a truly effective insulator, it was also flame retardant, resistant to chemical and electrical damage, cheap to produce and boasted impressive tensile strength. It really did seem like a miracle substance, and as a consequence thousands of homes and businesses found themselves crammed full of asbestos-derived products throughout the 20th century.

 

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly dangerous

There was, however, a historical precedent to suggest that all would not be well where asbestos was concerned. Both the ancient Greeks and Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder recognised and recorded the detrimental health effects posed by asbestos, but those warnings were not to be heeded by 20th century builders and renovators. Unfortunately, inhaling asbestos fibres can cause any number of potentially fatal respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. To this day, asbestos-related illnesses remain the biggest workplace killers in the UK.

 

A 21st century replacement

Today, it is illegal to mine asbestos in many countries around the globe, let alone to use it in commercial and residential properties. Fortunately, manmade substances boasting similar qualities to asbestos have since come along in its stead, with fibreglass insulation offering many of the positive benefits of asbestos without the associated health problems. Many older properties still contain asbestos products, however, and it’s vital to deal with these safely in order to keep your staff, customers and clients safe at all times.

 

Dealing with asbestos

If you suspect that your building might harbour asbestos products, it’s important to undertake an asbestos survey before you do anything else. The fibres are only dangerous once they become airborne, so often moving or disturbing the material yourself can prove far more dangerous than simply leaving it alone for the time being. Our asbestos surveys will help you deal with the dangerous substance in your business without jeopardising the health of your employees, so if you’d like our help, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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