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A brief guide to asbestos

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Asbestos remains the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. According to HSE statistics, it is responsible for more than 84,000 deaths a year, caused by cancer (mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer) as a result of past exposure to asbestos.

At Bradley-Mason LLP, we appreciate that asbestos not only presents a threat to your commercial property but to your workforce. That is why our specialist asbestos surveys are carried out in a quick and professional manner, while adhering to the most recent asbestos legislation.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the term for a group of silicate materials that have a fibrous structure. They are highly fire and acid resistant and traditionally a popular choice of building material for thermal insulation, electrical insulation, fireproofing etc. Asbestos displays physical and chemical resistance to high temperatures as it is composed of long, thin, fibrous crystals that split into smaller and thinner microscopic ‘fibrils’ that can be released into the air when disturbed.

The use of asbestos goes back as far as the ancient Greeks, but it was only after World War II that the material was ‘discovered’ by the construction industry. Between the 1950s and 1980s, asbestos was extensively used as an insulator and flame retardant in in residential and commercial properties all over the world. In fact, there is strong chance that any building constructed before 2000 will comprise some asbestos containing materials (ACMs).

Today, it is legal to mine asbestos in many countries, and its use in commercial and residential property construction has been entirely prohibited in the UK since 1999. Instead, newer, manmade substances boasting similar qualities to asbestos have since been introduced. Fibreglass insulation, for instance, offers many of the positive benefits of asbestos without the associated health risks.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos materials that are in good condition and left undisturbed are safe. However, once the microscopic fibrils become airborne, they present a serious health hazard. They can travel undetected through respiratory dust defences, while inhaling asbestos fibres can cause a number of potentially fatal respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Working in the vicinity of ACMs or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres will significantly increase a person’s chances of contracting an asbestos related disease. While this is unlikely to cause any immediate health issues, it may have long-term health implications. That is why, even though ACMs are no longer in use, it is still causing problems for those who worked with or came into contact with the material decades ago.

Your duty to manage

If you are responsible for managing and maintaining non-domestic premises, you will have a legal duty to manage any asbestos contained within the building(s) and protect those working on the premises from the health risks that can be caused by asbestos exposure. The duty holder must take action to identify if there any ACMs in the building and what condition it is in. He must keep an up-to-date record of the condition and location of asbestos and carry out a risk assessment of those exposed to it and prepare an asbestos management plan. More details can be found here, while the duty to manage asbestos is contained in regulation 4 of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

It should be pointed out that asbestos is only dangerous if it is disturbed. Properly managed and contained, it should not present a health hazard. Don’t remove asbestos unnecessarily; this can be more dangerous than leaving it in place!

If you suspect that your building might harbour asbestos products, it is essential to conduct an asbestos survey before you do anything else. A professional asbestos survey can help to determine whether the premises and workforce are at risk and if any ACMs need to be removed by a licenced contractor. At Bradley-Mason LLP, our asbestos surveys will help you deal with this dangerous substance in your business without jeopardising the health of your staff. We can also add value by combining the survey with other services such as a compliance audit or acquisition report. For more information on how we can help, please contact the Bradley-Mason LLP team.

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