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What is Asbestos

Asbestos what, Where, When, Why, Who

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of soft and flexible fibres that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make the mineral useful, but they also make asbestos exposure highly toxic.

Asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can be used in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, mineral fibres can become permanently trapped in the body.

Over decades, trapped asbestos fibres can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage. A rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes other forms of cancer as well as progressive lung disease.

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Where can you find asbestos?

Residential & Industrial Examples

Asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000. It is in many of the common materials used in the building trade that you may come across during your work or home.

When am I most at risk?

You Are Most At Risk When

  • the building you are working on was built before the year 2000
  • you are working on an unfamiliar site
  • asbestos-containing materials were not identified before the job was started
  • asbestos-containing materials were identified but this information was not passed on by the people in charge to the people doing the work
  • you haven’t done a risk assessment
  • you don’t know how to recognise and work safely with asbestos
  • you have not had appropriate information, instruction and training
  • you know how to work safely with asbestos, but you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions, perhaps to save time or because no one else is following proper procedures.
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Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

  • Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road.
  • Around 20 tradesman die each week as a result of past exposure
  • However, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000.

When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now. Asbestos can cause fatal and serious diseases.

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Who Could Be Affected?

Anyone could be at risk of being exposed to asbestos. Whether you work in a building containing asbestos, a construction worker or it could be present in your home.

Below are examples of who could be affected:

  • Residents, Heating and ventilation engineers, Demolition workers, Carpenters and joiners, Plumbers, Roofing contractors, Painters and decorators, Plasterers, Construction workers
  • Fire and burglar alarm installers, Shop fitters, Gas fitters, Computer and data installers, Genera, maintenance staff eg caretakers, Telecommunications engineers, Architects, building surveyors, and other such professionals, Cable layers, Electricians etc. This list does not include all occupations at risk from potential exposure to asbestos.