According to the World Health Organisation, more than 100,000 people die from asbestos related issues every year, while in the UK, asbestos-related deaths are run into the thousands every year – despite stringent controls on asbestos having been in place for over two decades.
Clearly, the hazards of asbestosis – the deadly lung condition arising from the inhalation of asbestos fibres – and other long-term health complications, remain serious risks, especially among construction workers, maintenance works and people who may be exposed to asbestos on a regular basis.
Given the risk to life and health from asbestos-related disease and the severity of asbestos damage to the lungs, businesses have a legal and moral obligation to take all necessary steps to identify, manage, and reduce asbestos risk. However, not everyone in an organisation will have the same level of risk from asbestos, which is why any asbestos management strategy must begin with a bespoke risk assessment to identify areas of vulnerability.
Which Type of People and Categories of Worker Are Most At Risk From Asbestosis?
Many people assume that asbestosis is mostly an issue for construction workers. There’s some truth to this, since these professionals may come in direct contact with materials that contain asbestos.
However, asbestos fibres are a hazard for anyone who lives or works in close proximity to an area where such materials are disturbed. This includes everyone from demolition workers, repair or maintenance staff, caretakers in old buildings, electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople – and even members of the public in the vicinity of construction or demolition work.
This is a non-exhaustive list of professionals at risk from potential exposure to asbestos:
- Air-conditioning and ventilation engineers
- Carpentry and joinery contractors
- Insulation workers
- Roofing contractors
- Interior decorators
- Drywall installers
- Alarm installers
- Gas fitters
- Maintenance staff
- Security guards
- Internet, phone, and cable installers
- Architects and building surveyors
When conducting an asbestos risk assessment, every category of employee and site visitor must be considered for the risk of encountering asbestos in their role, the regularity and potential hazard to health, and the safeguards may prevent or reduce exposure.
Situations Where Special Attention Is Required
Approximately 1.5 million buildings in the UK still contain asbestos. This figure includes schools, hospitals, and residential buildings, as well as countless offices, factories, and warehouses built before 1999.
If there is construction or renovation work planned in your premises, or if you manage a construction team, you’ll want to pay special attention to the following situations, as they could increase the asbestos risk factors for all staff involved.
- The building was built before 1999.
- You will be working on older council housing (or former council housing now in private ownership), which typically has above-average asbestos rates.
- No risk assessment has been done.
- You or your team don’t have adequate training about how to recognise and work safely with asbestos.
- Asbestos-containing materials were not identified prior to the start of the job, but were discovered during the project – workers may have been subjected to prior asbestos exposure without adequate PPE and without their knowledge.
- Materials containing asbestos were identified, but the findings were not communicated to people working on-site.
- Asbestos handling precautions and procedures were not followed on-site.
If any of the above applies to a current or upcoming project, it’s vital that you act without delay. Asbestos risk management is a complex area that involves many facets, from training and risk management to testing and specialised removal techniques.
Find Out More
At OMC Consultants, we specialise in asbestos risk management and can provide comprehensive support to small and medium-sized companies. We have a range of asbestos management solutions, consultancy services, and training that can help minimise asbestos-related risks in your workplace. Please get in touch today for more information.
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