Our guide to asbestos safety training
Jane McGuire

Our guide to asbestos safety training

First published date September 18 2014 Amended date September 18 2014

When you hear the word asbestos you usually think illness and law suits, but it turns out many of us will be sat in offices and living in homes containing the stuff. Without causing a mass panic, most of us will breathe in small amounts of asbestos fibres in the environment and remain unharmed. Yet for those working on or near damaged asbestos containing materials, things can be more serious. Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work related deaths in the UK, with more people dying from related diseases than in road accidents.

For those who specialise in asbestos removal and the construction industry, asbestos safety training is recommended for health and safety reasons. The 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations state that owners of non-domestic buildings (factories and offices) have a duty to manage the asbestos in premises. Being aware of how to recognise asbestos and dispose of it safely is vital in a number of working environments, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and get clued up on an asbestos safety training course.


Why is it dangerous?

Asbestos can cause four major diseases, mesotheliomac which is a rare form of cancer that destroys the protective lining on the vital organs and other forms of lung cancer. Asbestosis involves scarring of the lung tissue and can often develop ten to fifteen years after the initial exposure. This is not to be confused with pleural plaques or pleural thickening, where the membrane that covers the lungs is damaged, but the lungs are unharmed. Worryingly, these diseases often take years to affect you, so it is important to protect yourself as early as you can.

As mentioned, it is not just those working in the construction industry than can suffer the effects of asbestos poisoning. In the 9/11 tragedy, many emergency service workers breathed in a mixture of asbestos and other toxicants, which has been linked to the unusually high death rate from cancers in the years since the disaster.


Why is asbestos used?

Asbestos was used on a large scale at the end of the 19th century in electrical and building insulation. It was not until the early 1990s that awareness of asbestos related diseases became wide spread, when asbestos fibres were found in the lung tissue of a deceased factory worker.

In 1985 any materials containing blue or brown asbestos were banned in the UK. Although white asbestos is now banned in the EU, Australia and twenty other countries, asbestos is likely to be present in any structures built prior to 1999 before the ban. When working on these buildings, it is recommended that you look for asbestos before removing old bath panels and concrete water tanks. For this reason it is recommended that those working in the construction or renovation industries take asbestos safety training courses, to prepare them for coming into contact with materials in old structures.


Is it still used today?

Although white asbestos is banned, forms of asbestos are still used in many materials in the home and work place. In some instances, this means you will need to be a HSE licensed contractor to handle the substance safely.

Surprisingly, asbestos is present in over a third of the cement used in the country, though it is such a small quantity you do not need a licence to mix or lay it. Asbestos is also commonly found on old shed roofs and can be recognised by the wavy concrete designs.  

Asbestos is still present in sprayed insulation coatings on the underside of roofs and the sides of buildings and warehouses.  When spraying, it is easy to get overspill ‘splash back’; due to the fact this contains 85% asbestos and can break down easily, this is one of the most dangerous asbestos containing materials and you will need a licence to use it in the UK.

Another common use is the lagging insulation found in or on heating systems in the home. These will often be covered in protective coating or paint, but can be precarious as the disturbance of lagging insulation can release asbestos fibres into the air. It is worth noting that an ordinary dust mask will not protect you from these fibres, so even after completing an asbestos safety training course, if you are not a licensed contractor it is worth getting a second opinion before doing anything yourself.

Loose fill asbestos was commonly used to insulate properties built before the laws changed, so is likely to be found in between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces. This loose fluffy insulation material looks like candy floss, but is the most dangerous form of pure asbestos. If disturbed, large amounts of blue-grey or white fibres can be released into the air, so this must not be touched without a licence.


What will I learn on a course?

It all sounds a little scary doesn’t it? On an asbestos safety training course you will learn to recognise the different types of asbestos and identify the associated risks. Whether you are planning to become a specialist in asbestos or work in the building industry, you will need to understand the control measures and how to safely remove and dispose of the materials.

After completing job specific training, you will gain the skills to safely carry out non-licensed tasks such as paining undamaged insulation boards, cleaning light fittings attached to insulation boards or cleaning out the guttering on a cement roof.

 Courses can be completed in an afternoon or an evening, and will give you the awareness you need to practise asbestos tasks safely or work in buildings containing the material. 

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