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    Person dressed in PPE for the removal of asbestos

    What is Asbestos and why is it so dangerous?

    Published on May 4th, 2022 | by Matthew Albutt

    Asbestos still remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with 5,000 deaths recorded in 2019. On top of this, the UK has the highest rates of mesothelioma cases in the world with around 2,600 people diagnosed with the condition according to the NHS.

    What is asbestos and why is it so dangerous?

    Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of tiny fibres that are resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. Because of these unique properties, it was used in abundance in the construction industry as an insulator. It was also added to paper, cloth, cement, plastic, and other materials to make them stronger.

    Unfortunately, when the dust from these tiny fibres is inhaled they become permanently trapped in the body. Over the course of years being trapped the fibres can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage.

    During the days that asbestos was used heavily, and before we knew the dangers, there were reports of men coming home to their families after a day at work covered in asbestos dust on their clothes. When they arrived home, and before showering, they would give their wife and kids a hug which would disturb the fibres on their clothes, meaning their families inhaled these fibres. Decades later these men, along with their families would all suffer from the unfortunate effects of asbestos.

    When left alone it’s generally safe, however when it is disturbed or damaged the fibres are released into the air and can cause the following fatal and serious diseases:

    Mesothelioma

    This is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.

    Asbestos related lung cancer

    This is the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.

    Asbestosis

    Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

    Pleural thickening

    Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

    The safe removal of asbestos

    Why do MPs want to remove all asbestos from public buildings?

    I think it’s clear that historically asbestos is dangerous and can cause serious health issues for people. However, the use of asbestos was banned in 1999 and any building built since then will not have any used in the construction.

    A recent report by the Work and Pensions Committee notes that asbestos can be found in around 300,000 non-domestic buildings and warns that there is a growing risk of public exposure due to the UK’s increase in retrofitting buildings which can disturb the asbestos-containing materials.

    It’s important to note that it can be difficult to tell where asbestos has been used and can change depending on the building and when it was built. It is important that anyone working within the trades, or the built environment is aware of the risks involved.

    How can Agility Risk and Compliance help?

    Here at Agility, we offer several options for you and your employees from our 1 day Asbestos Awareness training course to risk assessments and site inspections and audits. If you’d like more information or not sure what would suit your business then give a friendly member of the team a call on 01527 571 611.

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