Working with asbestos in hot conditions

hot conditions

You don’t normally think of the combination of asbestos and heat as a concern. Asbestos is resistant to heat – that is one of the reasons it was used in building projects. However, in this blog, we are not talking about the use of asbestos, we are talking about asbestos removal projects and how heat can affect the operatives involved in those projects.

Hot environments

Examples of hot environments could be boiler rooms, ducts and confined spaces – these places can be hot at any time of the year and if they are not insulated they can become even hotter.

If the existing insulation does not fully cover the pipes in the area, the temperature can increase, especially in confined spaces. When there is no insulation on a pipe, you can feel the heat literally radiating from it. It doesn’t take much to heat up a small space.

Other environments which can get incredibly hot include attics in Spring and Summer. Most people only go up in their loft over the Christmas period when it can be freezing, but in the Summer, with the sun shining on the roof, an attic can be a heat trap.

Working outside in the Summer next to glazed panelling in offices can also be very hot work. Working outside with asbestos enclosures is another example. Basically, you have built a mini greenhouse! It can get really hot in there because it is essentially polythene sheets and radiates the sun.

Why is heat a problem?

Heat can make asbestos enclosures fail. The sun and heat affects the glue and the tapes that hold the enclosures up. Basically, the glue and tapes degrade, don’t bond well and essentially melt.

There are other risks, such as hot pipes, as we said earlier. You may come into contact with steam pipes which can cause burns. First degree burns affect the outer layer of skin – even a tiny burn on your hand can stay around for a few weeks and scar. Full degree burns go through all the layers of the skin, deeper tissue, muscle and can affect the bones which is really nasty.

The main concern is heat stress. This relates to the working temperature for the people doing the job. Body temperature is around 36 to 37 degrees. If it rises above 38 degrees up to 40 degrees that could be fatal. To be clear we are talking about body temperature here, not outside temperature.

Signs of heat stress

There are several things you should look out for related to heat stress, including an inability to concentrate. You can also get muscles cramps, heat rash and even a slight increase in body temperature.

Severe thirst is a late symptom. By the time you feel this way, it’s not too late but it is the onset of heat stress which can lead to more severe problems such as passing out/fainting. If a worker faints and hit their head in a confined space you would need to shut the project down and close the site.

Other signs include exhaustion, fatigue, nausea and headaches. Headaches are quite common – if you get really hot it can cause headaches and then your skin can go from sweating to clammy all over. The way your body cools down is by sweating but if you are working in a boiler room with steam pipes it makes it harder for your body to cool down as the steam in the air cannot evaporate.

Heatstroke may cause severe reactions and can be fatal. Without a quick response to lower body temperature, heatstroke can cause your brain, or other vital organs, to swell, possibly resulting in permanent damage. You could fit, go into convulsions, lose consciousness and, without a prompt response and adequate treatment, even die.

What is the impact of working with asbestos in such conditions?

We’ve spoken about the hot environments that we might face but we haven’t yet addressed what it means to work with asbestos in such conditions. You need to remember that the types of activities you are carrying out has a bearing on what you will be wearing too.

Full coveralls, designed to prevent asbestos fibres penetrating, can get sweaty, then add to this gloves and boots. Respirators, in some cases, can restrict the face and the position that the operative will stand in. The masks are made from rubber and plastic which are horrible to have on when it is hot.

In addition to this you need to remember that most of the time asbestos removal is hard and vigorous work. At the minimum, it’s active work. For example, when you are hoovering an area, you may have to get into some funny positions to get to where you need to be, and this means you are expending more energy.

How can you reduce the risk?

The first and foremost thing is turn off boilers and pipes and eliminate the heat source. However, there are occasions where that isn’t possible. For example, if you are working in a school and they need to keep the heating on to keep the children warm. In these instances, try to reduce the heat and allow more air flow through air conditioning units. If you have an asbestos enclosure, try to introduce negative pressure and air movement into the enclosure to pull in fresh air, which can reduce the temperature slightly.

Air conditioning units are good because the air flow is guaranteed. You can place them at intervals and introduce air flow at much cooler temperatures to instantly reduce the temperatures within the enclosures.

See if external works can be planned to take place in the cooler periods of Spring and Autumn. Winter isn’t ideal as the glue holding the enclosures together can be broken down in the colder temperatures.

Another thing to consider is working times. How long can operatives work in those areas? Introduce regular breaks to ensure no one dehydrates. Have cool water available and encourage the operatives to drink frequently. It may be that operatives work in an enclosure for 15 minutes and then take 15 minutes out. This may make the job longer but if it’s needed to protect the operative’s health it must happen.

How can I make sure the risks are managed?

To do this, you will need to plan, carry out a risk assessment and monitor temperatures. Look at what each operative needs and make sure they have the necessary training to identify the risks and heat stress symptoms.

Training is essential as you can easily forget if you don’t do this type of work, day in day out. They need to have this information in the front of their minds to look out for each other. Also make sure you have emergency procedures in place and that everyone knows what they are so they know what to do in the event of someone suffering from heat stress.

Each person is individual, so what might affect one person won’t necessarily affect another and that is the problem. You can put procedures in place, but emergencies can still happen. You need to think how to evacuate people and what needs to happen next.

If you are looking at a big project, you may consider acclimatising individuals to that particular heat to build up their tolerance. You could start by working in small timeframes to get them used to the heat and build up from there.

We’re a professional asbestos consultancy helping businesses deal with asbestos compliance using asbestos surveysasbestos air testing, and asbestos removal management. Please call one of the team, or use the online form to obtain your free quotation. If you would like further information or advice on asbestos and asbestos training, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or Contact Us

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.

Need Help? Request a Call Back

Request a call back from one of our expert Asbestos Consultants who will help you identify what you need

More Asbestos Articles

Acorn School Site 26 e1634213147938

School holidays are the perfect time for asbestos surveys

When you think of the upcoming October half-term holiday, asbestos surveys and asbestos-related works might not be the first thing that spring to mind. Fortunately, many schools and colleges wisely choose to use their breaks to get on top of their asbestos issues by organising asbestos surveys or carrying out works which – without the … Read more

Acorn campaign targets asbestos in schools.

Asbestos in schools to be tackled by new Acorn campaign

This week we were proud to launch a hard-hitting campaign targeting the issue of asbestos in schools. If you read our blog last week you will know that more than 20 years after the UK banned the use of asbestos here, it’s estimated that a high percentage of our schools still contain the deadly substance. … Read more

Is the UK ignoring its problem with asbestos in schools?

Is the UK ignoring its problem with asbestos in schools?

Did you know that the UK has a significant problem with asbestos in schools? More than two decades since the use of asbestos was banned in the UK, it’s estimated that eight out of 10 of our schools still contain the deadly substance. Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was used frequently by our construction industry, … Read more

National Mesothelioma Awareness Day c5810986 e1632385966395

Raising awareness about mesothelioma

This Sunday, Americans, their federal departments and agencies and their media are being called upon to observe the annual US National Mesothelioma Awareness Day with ceremonies and activities. Back in 2010, September 26 was earmarked by the US Congress as a special day to raise the American public’s awareness about mesothelioma and to encourage all … Read more

worker 6544391 1920 e1631783205514

UK house builder becomes first to divert asbestos away from landfill

We’ve heard some fantastic news about asbestos in the UK during the past few days. Leading developer Lovell has become the first UK house builder to actively tackle the challenge of asbestos waste. The firm is collaborating with Wolverhampton-based Thermal Recycling to safely package and convert asbestos waste into a safe and reusable cement substitute. … Read more

road sign 4244285 1920 e1631178843233

Asbestos causes a headache for constructor and neighbouring businesses

Asbestos hit the headlines once again this week when it brought a construction project grinding to a halt, closed off a town centre road and disrupted nearby businesses. The Stoke Sentinel has published an article sharing the frustrations of businesses in Piccadilly Arcade in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, who were unable to access their parking spaces or … Read more

surgery 3034071 1920 e1630572942721

Looking after asbestos will help us all breathe more easily

Many people have lives filled with work and family and 101 other activities that take up our days. So, today we’d like you to do something for us – just pause for a second and take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Did you manage to do it? The average person takes … Read more

Acorn Samples 6 e1629960810872

Concerns raised about asbestos on British beach

Most of us love a seaside holiday but sadly one of Britain’s beaches hit the headlines last week for all the wrong reasons. You may remember that back in May we ran a blog on ‘Are holidaymakers in danger of finding asbestos on beaches?’ which highlighted a number of British beaches where asbestos had been … Read more

Acorn Jan 2020 Low Res 49 e1629361953760

Acorn receives the backing of major organisations

At Acorn Analytical Services we are very proud of the wide range of asbestos management and training services that we provide. We are proud to say we’re a fully independent and impartial company and that clients can be confident that the results and recommendations they receive from us will always be in their best interests. … Read more

building plan 354233 1920 e1628755740921

Will planning reform put more people at risk from asbestos?

There have been lots of concerns raised in the national press recently about new planning reforms which mean a wider range of commercial properties can now be converted into flats. The reforms came into force at the beginning of this month in a bid to regenerate city centres which have struggled during the pandemic. However, … Read more