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How dangerous is asbestos?

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Asbestos continues to cause serious health concerns even though the substance was banned in the UK in 1999. Originally used for fireproofing and insulating, and typically encased in concrete and other building materials, it’s been the subject of controversy for decades. So exactly how dangerous is asbestos, and why is there such a risk associated with it?

The nature and makeup of asbestos makes it extremely dangerous to health and safety. Workers in the construction industry are particularly exposed to risk, but the danger is present for all of us.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show there were more than 5,000 deaths from asbestos-related diseases in 2017, including mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis,¹ so what makes asbestos so dangerous?

How dangerous is asbestos?

Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibres that can be easily inhaled when airborne. Blue and brown asbestos are considered the two most dangerous forms – they possess needle-like fibres that can lodge in the membranes surrounding the lungs.

Today’s mortality rates are indicative of the widespread use of asbestos in industry and construction in the past, but also the timescale between initial exposure and illness – the symptoms of asbestos diseases don’t generally manifest until several decades later, sometimes up to 60 years.  

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), such as cement pipes, roofing tiles, and partition walling, degrade over time or become damaged, and can easily release their fibres. But how dangerous is asbestos today, considering the materials that encase it have been in place for so long?  

How dangerous is asbestos for today’s workers?

Our extensive stock of older buildings in the UK means there’s significant danger of asbestos exposure, particularly for tradespeople and others associated with the construction industry.

Although decades have passed since asbestos products were installed, the extensive time lapse in conjunction with the nature of asbestos, creates the danger for today’s workers. The lengthy timescale between original installation and the present day makes degradation and disrepair of materials highly likely, and if they’re disturbed without the correct precautions in place, the question “how dangerous is asbestos” comes to the fore.

Dealing with the danger of asbestos

It’s important to know and understand how and where asbestos was used in the past, so you and your workers can take the appropriate action if it’s encountered at work. This is where asbestos training can be hugely beneficial.

Asbestos awareness training helps you understand the implications of breathing in asbestos fibres, and how dangerous asbestos actually is. The training teaches you about the makeup of asbestos, how the various asbestos-related diseases can manifest, as well as how to protect yourself and those around you.

Acorn Analytical Services is a UK-wide asbestos consultancy offering a full range of asbestos services, including UKATA asbestos awareness training, asbestos due diligence, and asbestos removal. Please fill in the form on our website to obtain a free online quote, or contact one of our expert team to find out more.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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