Why manage asbestos?
Breathing in air contaminated by asbestos fibres can lead to serious consequences, and in extreme cases, it may even lead to cancer and serious lung infections. However, asbestos is only of threat when asbestos fibres are released into the air. Workers who carry out demolition work at building sites or maintenance work, are particularly at risk. That said, there is a significant delay between exposure to asbestos and the onset of diseases. This may vary between 15 to 40 years. Thus, only through proper prevention and minimising exposure can we actually reduce the chances of asbestos-induced diseases. The use of asbestos in the construction of premises is currently illegal, but it was widely used in building materials in the past, and thus, much of it can still be found in the open.
Asbestos is generally of three types –
- Blue asbestos (crocidolite)
- Brown asbestos (amosite)
- White asbestos (chrysotile)
While all three types are dangerous carcinogens, the brown and white variations of asbestos are the most hazardous. Any business built before 2000 may contain asbestos. As long as the ACMs or asbestos-containing materials are in good condition, they are of negligible risk. However, once they are disturbed or damaged, they pose a significant threat to people in the vicinity. This is where an asbestos management plan comes in handy.
What does an asbestos management plan involve?
The duty to manage the risk from asbestos includes the following:
- Find out if there are asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) present on the premises. Find out its location and the condition in which it exists.
- Make an up-to-date record of the findings – including the location and condition of the ACMs and maintain the data.
- Assess the amount of risk from the material.
- Prepare a detailed asbestos management plan about how you plan on managing the risk.
- Take all steps necessary to put your plan into action.
- Review and monitor the arrangements made for the containment of ACMs.
- Set up a robust system to provide information regarding the location and the state of ACMs to anyone hired to work at the premise.
Anyone who has knowledge of the location and the condition of the asbestos-containing materials in the premises should inform about it to the duty holder, who in turn will help the assessment team to assess the state of things and the risk posed by the ACMs.
Who are at risk from ASMs?
The more asbestos fibres breathed in, the greater is the risk. Therefore, in most cases, labourers or workers exposed to asbestos when carrying out repair jobs or maintenance, are the most at risk. Such list of people generally includes:
- Maintenance engineers or other similar engineers who work on the very fabric of the building.
- Workers tasked with fixing or maintenance of the electronics equipment in the premises, such as IT engineers or alarm installers.
- Demolition or construction contractors, painters, electricians, roofers, plumbers, heating and ventilation engineers, and more.
If the ASMs in the building run the chances of getting disturbed or damaged, or perhaps are in poor condition, others in the building or within the premise could be at risk.
It has been found that not all ACMs are alike, and some are more vulnerable to damage than others. Surveys have revealed that building materials that contain a higher percentage of asbestos, have a higher risk of giving off asbestos fibres. Spray coatings and insulation board have higher chances of containing blue or brown asbestos. In fact, the latter is more prone to releasing asbestos fibres in the air when power tools are used. It is worth noting that there was a time when asbestos was widely used in construction and thus, it is safer to presume that most construction goods have traces of it unless there is strong evidence of it not having ACMs. This is why a good asbestos assessment plan is of significant value in safeguarding people’s lives.