When asbestos materials are damaged they release tiny fibres which, if breathed in can cause serious and often fatal diseases. But what should you do if accidental asbestos exposure occurs on site? These simple steps can help protect your health if you think you have disturbed asbestos materials.
Asbestos is a dangerous material if disturbed. When asbestos materials are damaged they release tiny fibres which, if breathed in can cause serious and often fatal asbestos diseases. Without the proper controls in place, removing or disturbing asbestos materials is very high risk. So high risk, that asbestos claimed the number one spot for top 5 health risks. But what should you do if asbestos materials are disturbed and accidental asbestos exposure occurs?
You should always work with the correct type of asbestos survey in place to prevent accidental disturbance of asbestos-containing materials. A good procedure to follow is before disturbing any building materials as part of your work or other activity, is to ask yourself, could the material I am about to disturb contain asbestos?
If the answer is yes, or I don’t know – you need a survey.
Once you know what you are dealing with you can put the appropriate control measures to prevent exposure – or get in a specialist where required.
Unfortunately, accidental asbestos disturbance does still happen. Either because the person isn’t aware of the presence of asbestos, or doesn’t realise the danger. Acting fast is crucial to prevent the spread of deadly asbestos fibres, and make the area safe.
Asbestos disturbance is more common than you might think. Because asbestos materials can be anywhere, it was used in thousands of building products. In walls, ceilings, floors, doors, insulation, cladding, partitions, voids and panels. On tanks, boilers, pipework and structural elements. Asbestos was a highly popular material before it was banned in the UK in 1999. Any building built before this date is likely to contain asbestos in some form.
Large amounts of asbestos were used in new and refurbished buildings before 2000, therefore a large number of buildings still contain some form of asbestos.
Workers within the construction industry are highly likely to come across asbestos during the course of their work. Around 40 trades people a week die from past asbestos exposure. Despite the rules and regulations in places surrounding asbestos, accidents do happen, and materials can be uncovered during demolition that were not picked up in the asbestos survey. What should you do in these instances?
If you think you might have disturbed asbestos:
If you are not licensed to work with asbestos, and you are worried that you have accidentally disturbed an asbestos containing material – you should stop work immediately and evacuate both yourself and anyone else working in the area.
You should evacuate the area as quickly as possible, providing it is safe to do so.
If there is dust or debris on your clothing, you should stay put, get help and put on respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to minimise the risk of breathing in dangerous fibres. RPE suitable for protection from asbestos fibres should be used, usual practice is a P3 filter. Don’t move around if you are contaminated. This will spread asbestos fibres and put yourself and others at further danger.
You should take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of asbestos.
Wipe yourself down with damp rags (damping down dust prevents the fibres from becoming airborne). Never dry brush or rub down with your hands, this will put the light asbestos fibres back into the air and means more chance of breathing them in.
You will need to dispose of your clothes as asbestos waste. The rags used should also be disposed of as asbestos waste. You should also shower and wash your hair, as fibres can attach to body hair.
You should take the necessary measures to prevent others being exposed to asbestos. The area should be cordoned off and a warning sign ‘possible asbestos contamination’ should be displayed. Asbestos fibres can remain in the air for days. And any fibres that have settled could become airborne again if there is movement. Stay out of the area until it has been made safe.
At this point, an asbestos surveyor or licensed contractor like Revolve Asbestos Solutions should be consulted, to sample the material and can then advise you on the type of asbestos and the risk level. For example, asbestos containing cement products are lower risk than asbestos insulation boards.
Once the asbestos that has been disturbed has been cleaned up, the asbestos containing material should either be sealed and labelled, so it is easily identified in the future, or removed.
If you are likely to be disturbing the asbestos again during the course of the building work, then it should be removed. You shouldn’t carry out this work yourself if you are not trained to do so, you should have the correct asbestos training, even for non-licensed work.
All work with asbestos, including lagging, insulation and insulation board must be done by a licensed contractor.