Whilst there are rules in place to keep workers in industrial occupations safe, there is little information about asbestos available to keep the public safe from disturbing Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) that might be within their homes, offices, and other buildings where asbestos materials may not be clearly indicated or realised. Many people carry out DIY tasks in their homes without checking to see if they could potentially be disturbing an asbestos-containing material and releasing asbestos fibres into the air.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 125 million individuals are exposed to asbestos in the workplace worldwide, however, this number could be much higher if those who have been exposed to asbestos outside of the workplace were also considered.
Asbestos exposure is a bigger risk for construction workers, however, it can be a hazard for anybody who is disturbing the fabric of a building. This could include a DIY project, drilling, sawing, or maintenance/repair work. Those who aren’t expecting to work around or become exposed to asbestos should still be aware of the dangers and procedures for staying safe around asbestos.
Since asbestos was such a popular building product before it was finally banned in 1999, it was used in building materials all over the country in walls, ceilings, insulation, and fire protection. Not only was asbestos used in buildings, but also in everyday objects like toilet seats, rope seals, and it has even been found in more modern items such as crayons and makeup.
Asbestos in the classroom
There is already proof that asbestos is affecting those who don’t work in the typical workplace where asbestos awareness training would be necessary. According to Mesothelioma Hope, 205 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 2001. This number is expected to be higher as it doesn’t include those over the age of 75.
Asbestos can be found in many schools across the UK today, despite being banned over 20 years ago. Asbestos Victim Advice has estimated that 80% of the UK’s 29,000 schools still contain asbestos. This carcinogen will cause no harm when undisturbed and in good condition, but asbestos will release microscopic fibres when disturbed that can easily be inhaled.
Plenty of these asbestos-clad buildings have been renovated and upgraded since housing asbestos, however, a large number of older buildings are still hiding asbestos within their walls.
Until disturbed, this asbestos isn’t harmful.
The issue with asbestos still being housed in schools is that many individuals cannot recognise an asbestos product by eye. This leads to asbestos-containing materials being unknowingly disturbed, destroyed, and the fibres being released into the air. Schools that receive less funding and may not have been renovated since 2000 could still be covered in asbestos and fibres could be released when decoration, refurbishment, or general wear-and-tear happens.
This leads to teachers, students, and any other individuals who are working around or near the asbestos breathing in the harmful fibres and putting themselves at risk of an asbestos-related disease. According to RB Asbestos, 22 teachers died from Mesothelioma only last year (2020). Asbestos in schools could contribute to a significantly higher number of mesothelioma cases considering that children are up to 5 times as likely to develop mesothelioma than somebody in their 30’s with the same amount of asbestos exposure. This is due to the lungs becoming smaller and a smaller amount of asbestos fibres needing to be inhaled to have an effect on the individual’s health. A recent incident involving asbestos in schools involved a construction worker removing part of a suspended ceiling and releasing asbestos fibres into the air, where they were found around the school. This incident took place because of missing information in their asbestos survey, said UKATA.
Asbestos in the office
If you don’t work in the construction industry, or another industry that requires asbestos awareness training by law, you may not be aware that asbestos could be in your building. Your workplace should by law have a duty holder who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building. This duty holder should be aware of any asbestos in the building, and make sure it is either removed or taken care of in another way that will reduce or eliminate exposure for anybody disturbing the fabric of the building. The employer has a duty to protect employees, customers, and other personnel from asbestos exposure.
They also note deaths caused by mesothelioma in marketing & sales managers, civil service administrative officers & assistants, sales & retail assistants, shopkeepers and wholesale/retail dealers. This proves that asbestos isn’t just restricted to the construction industry, but anybody who worked in a building containing asbestos which was and probably still is the majority.
Asbestos in your home
Though there are regulations and legislation put in place to control asbestos in the workplace, these regulations don’t apply to those at home and it can lead to many people being unaware of the dangers of asbestos. Employed construction workers should be aware of the risks surrounding asbestos, However, a family friend, for example, carrying out DIY renovations on your house might not be aware of the risks asbestos pose and which products asbestos can be found inside.
If your home was built before 2000, you could be living amongst asbestos without realising. Asbestos is only harmful when disturbed, therefore, asbestos will only harm you in your home if you have been disturbing and releasing the fibres. Asbestos can be found in your home in products such as cement, roof tiles, textured walls or ceilings like Artex, and many more.
Unknowingly disturbing asbestos fibres can be easily done, by drilling into walls, sawing materials, disturbing insulation and disposing of products in the home which could contain asbestos. DIY renovations, redecoration, and general living could lead to asbestos fibres being disturbed in your home, even if you didn’t know you had asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in the building.
Even if you don’t work in the construction industry, you could still become exposed to asbestos in your home or workplace. To learn more about what you can do do reduce asbestos exposure, the dangers of asbestos and the importance of asbestos awareness training, read our guide to asbestos awareness training or browse our asbestos awareness training courses.