Inadvertent Exposure To Asbestos. It is unfortunately not uncommon for people to be inadvertently exposed to asbestos fibres, usually in small quantities, during demolition works, building operations, maintenance work or following damage to asbestos-containing materials.
It is possible that repeated low-level exposures may lead to asbestos-related diseases, although high exposure for long periods is linked more clearly to these diseases.
There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the first symptoms of disease; this can vary between 15 and 60 years.
Breathing in asbestos fibres can eventually lead to a number of diseases, including:
- Asbestosis or fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs,
- Lung cancer;
- Mesothelioma, a cancer of the inner lining of the chest wall or abdominal cavity.
Common Asbestos Types
Many of those suffering today from asbestos-related diseases worked in the building trades and were exposed to asbestos in their day-to-day work with asbestos materials or because work with asbestos was carried out near them.
Such incidents understandably cause anxiety about the possible effects, both short and long term, of the exposure. In many circumstances exposure will have been minimal, with little likelihood of any long term effects. Unfortunately, although the type of asbestos involved may be known there is often little, if any, reliable information concerning the amount of asbestos which may have been inhaled.
As an employer, where inadvertent exposure to asbestos has occurred, the following information regarding the incident needs to be considered:
- It is important to ascertain as far as possible the type of asbestos, the duration of exposure and the likely exposure levels. You may need to seek advice from occupational hygienists or occupational health specialists.
- You should keep accurate and detailed records concerning the incident and those persons involved. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 requires records to be kept for 40 years.
- If exposure is unlikely to have exceeded the control limit, it will usually have been insufficient to pose a significant long-term risk to health. Where you are able to estimate the extent of exposure the advice that those who have been exposed can be given should reflect the risk as far as possible.
- Exposed individuals should be informed that if they wish to consult their GP they should ask for a note to be made in their personal medical record of the possible exposure including date(s), duration, type of fibre and likely exposure levels (if known). The HSE does not normally advocate routine X-rays for persons exposed to asbestos in these circumstances.
- In addition, you may choose to refer employees for counseling. You may wish to select an occupational health service for this purpose. The local office of HSE”s Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS) may be able to provide information on services in the area.
- As an employer, consideration to what went wrong in causing exposure to asbestos, and how to prevent this happening again in future is essential.
At OMC, we have the knowledge and experience to provide you with impartial and balanced advice.