Asbestos – A Clear and Present Danger

Osborne, who recently rebranded from a traditional blue to a caring pink, are still red hot when it comes to Asbestos.

Barry Thompson, HSEQ Partner for Osborne, carries out asbestos awareness courses for Osborne staff and has recent been hands on with rolling our asbestos handbook, throughout the company.

Barry talked to Infrastructure Intelligence about why he views asbestos awareness as an absolute priority in day to day work, and why the construction industry has a part to play in keeping the subject very much on the safety agenda:

“When it comes to asbestos we are talking about people’s health and their lives. The fact is that today’s construction workers are still at risk. We are looking at  a very real danger which can have devastating effects on not only individual workers but also their friends and family. Many think that asbestos and the diseases it causes are for older workers to worry about but this is absolutely not the case. Asbestos is the single biggest cause of work related deaths in the UK and even eclipses those caused by road traffic accidents.” Diseases caused by exposure to asbestos include asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural thickening and plaques and finally mesothelioma (which is a fatal cancer) and it can take many years before the victim becomes unwell. The only proven cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. 

Asbestos was finally banned in all its forms in the UK in 1999 which means that any building constructed or refurbished prior to the year 2000 has the potential to have within it asbestos containing materials. And it is not just at work where we can be at risk as asbestos has been added to many products which can be found in the home. These can include soffit and facia boards, textured coatings such as “Artex” and corrugated cement sheeting.

Barry continues; “Asbestos awareness training plays such a vital part in giving construction workers the knowledge and information they need to help protect themselves and others from this deadly mineral. It is known that asbestos has in the past been added to over 3000 different products, many of which can be found in building and structures around the UK. It’s a shame that many of today’s tradesmen are still being needlessly exposed and in many cases this is through ignorance, which is completely unacceptable. Larger contractors have a part to play in ensuring that the contractors in their supply chain are providing asbestos awareness training for their workers where it is needed. “We as an industry cannot afford for people to be ill-informed around Asbestos. This is the biggest risk the construction industry is facing and it’s getting bigger, we must also remember that it’s not just site workers that face the risk, but office workers too.”

In addition to training it is vital that workers remain vigilant when carrying out their duties. They should not be afraid to ask about the possible presence of asbestos containing materials where they are working. All of the following could be indicative about the presence of asbestos:

1. Warning labels – these may be applied to known asbestos containing materials, or presumed asbestos containing materials.

2. The age of the building or structure – anything built or refurbished prior to the 2000 but the older it is the more likely asbestos is present.

3. The type of product/material present. For example, as asbestos was used to protect against fire it would not by unreasonable to suspect that a fire door may contain asbestos!

 Did you know…

– Those who remember the famous poppy field scene in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz (in which Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale fell asleep) will be appalled to know that the “snow” used in those camera shots was made from 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos.

– The original version of the Kent Micronite cigarette filter used crocidolite, a form of asbestos.

– Steve McQueen. The famous actor likely contracted mesothelioma during his racing career, when he wore asbestos-lined race uniforms. He died in 1980, at the age of 50.