Asbestos fibres, elongated and extremely small are carcinogenic. It’s as simple as that. Once you’ve inhaled them, their shape and size cause them to work their way into your bronchi, alveoli and pleura where they might eventually cause acute and often terminal conditions such as asbestosis, cancer and mesothelioma. Your respiratory tract and lungs cannot expel asbestos fibres once they’ve been inhaled and so controlling asbestos exposure becomes paramount and is the primary purpose of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
Since bans on the extraction and use of asbestos came into force in the UK at the end of the last century, it is now primarily to be found in buildings constructed before the year 2000 in the form of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) including asbestos insulating board (AIB) and in dust from these composite materials lodged in ceiling and floor cavities. Legislation, specifically the Control of Asbestos Regulations mentioned above and more generally the Health and Safety in the Work Place Act 1974 exist to place a legal duty on employers to control asbestos exposure at work in the course of maintenance, repair or demolition of pre 2000 buildings and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees undertaking such work. The same duty of care also extends to any non-employees who might be at potential risk, such as householders if the work is taking place in a domestic building.
Avoiding asbestos related disease at work – the law
Employers have a legal duty to provide:
1) Training in asbestos awareness to their employees.
2) Specific training in ‘non licensable’ and where applicable ‘licensable’ asbestos work, the latter referring to all work with asbestos lagging, insulation, sprayed coating and most insulation boards which requires a licence to undertake.
The basic rule in undertaking work in pre year 2000 built buildings is not to disturb anything containing or suspected of containing asbestos. Obviously some tasks make this disturbance inevitable in which case, considerable safety measures have to be taken to safeguard the health of the workers involved. This will include but not solely consist of the following:
• Researching prevalence of asbestos in the building from historical sources, i.e. plans, records of previous work etc.
• Using the provided personal protective equipment as trained to do.
• Avoiding working methods that create a lot of dust, i.e. power tools.
• Use wet rags or type ‘H’ vacuum cleaners to remove dust and debris.
• Cleaning waste away before it accumulates, double bagging and tying it and taking it to a licensed tip.
• Telling people nearby what you are doing.
• Using appropriate equipment, method and task sheets to control work.
• Not eating, drinking or smoking in the work area.
• Not re-using one-use disposable protective overalls or face masks.
• Washing/showering before breaks and before going home.
• Not walking on fragile ACM material.
If you have suffered asbestos related disease at work in England and Wales, then you could be entitled to make a work accident claim for compensation.
Tim Bishop senior partner of Bonallack and Bishop – Solicitors with a specialist team of work accident experts. For more information about how to claim compensation for industrial disease or a work related accident, visit their specialist website at http://www.workaccidentsolicitors.co.uk or phone their workplace accident solicitors on 01722 422300.