Asbestos is one of the most significant health risks in the building trade, with the Health and Safety Executive estimating that around 5,000 workers a year die as a result of past exposure – more than the annual death toll from road accidents. Any building erected or refurbished before the year 2000 may contain asbestos, so taking precautions against exposure is critical.
When materials which contain asbestos are disturbed, tiny fibres are released into the air and can be inhaled, leading to a whole range of potentially fatal lung conditions which can manifest over time. To reduce the risks, here are a few do’s and don’ts of working with asbestos.
Respect warning signs – if a sign warns of the presence of asbestos, make sure you avoid disturbing materials and take the necessary steps to reduce your exposure.
Use protective equipment – wear a suitable face mask to reduce the risk of inhaling particles, and always wear safety gloves.
Clean up as you work – never leave building materials lying around, as these could contain asbestos and might be disturbed by your colleagues.
Dispose of waste properly – double bag all building waste and ensure it is safely disposed of at a licensed refuse tip.
Wash after work – always shower after work and before breaks to remove any fibres which might be inhaled or inadvertently consumed.
Warn others – if you suspect there are building materials containing asbestos on site, warn your employer, the building owner and your colleagues as soon as possible.
Eat or drink in the work area – by eating and drinking in an area where there may be asbestos fibres, you might accidently consume them.
Use working methods which might disturb asbestos – using power tools or other equipment which generates a lot of dust can increase your risk of exposure.
Reuse protective equipment – disposable clothing and masks should be discarded at the end of the shift as they may have collected asbestos fibres.
Sweep up – instead of sweeping which disturbs dust, use wet rags or an H Vacuum cleaner to remove the debris from your site.
Smoke – smoking in an area containing asbestos increases your chances of inhaling the particles and also increases the risk of fire.
Before you start work, it is important you are aware of the dangers of asbestos and know the areas of the site which might contain this most hazardous of materials. Always look out for warning signs and always follow the plan of work and essential guidance laid down by your employer and the building owner.