How dangerous is asbestos

How dangerous is asbestos?

Are you wondering just how dangerous asbestos really is? Are you asking yourself if you need to be concerned about asbestos exposure?

Well, to sum up just how dangerous asbestos is, government figures show that in the UK alone there are approximately 5000 workers who die from an asbestos-related disease each year, which is more than the number of people killed on our roads!

These statistics are rather alarming and sadly show no signs of slowing down – numbers are increasing year on year as more and more tradesmen are dying as a result of past exposure to asbestos.

So why is asbestos so dangerous and causing so many deaths in the UK and across the world?

People mistakenly think that asbestos is no longer a problem due to it being banned in 1999, which meant is was no longer used in construction and manufacturing, but they couldn’t be more wrong!

Although asbestos-containing materials are not considered dangerous if left alone and undisturbed, when they are disturbed in any way then that’s when they become a hazard.

When asbestos fibres are released into the air and inhaled or ingested into the body, the tiny fibres can become trapped deep in the lungs which is when they can pose a serious health risk and cause various health problems and diseases in an individual.

Even though it was banned some 20 years ago, there are still lots of older buildings built or renovated before then that contain asbestos, therefore posing a potential risk of exposure to asbestos should the materials become disturbed or damaged in any way.

It’s very unlikely that you will go onto develop an asbestos-related disease from just a one-time exposure to asbestos, but if you are exposed on more than one occasion then you are at risk of developing a disease later in life as it can take anywhere between 10-40 years for any symptoms to manifest.

Hence why it’s so important to protect yourself now from unnecessary asbestos exposure, as once diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease it’s usually too late to reverse the effects.

How dangerous is asbestos?  Caution asbestos sign.

Who is at risk from asbestos disease?

Those people most at risk from the dangers of asbestos fibres and developing an associated disease are those who have worked in construction and the related trades in the past, especially those who worked during the 1970’s-90’s and so may have been exposed to asbestos as a consequence.

Even though asbestos is no longer used in construction, it is still dangerous due to the fact it remains in old buildings, meaning that workers such as demolition contractors, builders and electricians may accidentally disturb asbestos-containing materials as they carry out their work.

But there are many other workers that are at risk of asbestos exposure who work in construction and related trades that are involved in the refurbishment and maintenance of buildings such as:-

Which type of asbestos materials are most dangerous?

Some common asbestos-containing materials used in building and construction are more dangerous than others.

Any asbestos material that can easily disintegrate or crumble when handled is classed as the most dangerous, so for example sprayed on asbestos insulation.

Other types of asbestos-containing materials such as floor and ceiling tiles are classed as low risk providing they are left alone and undamaged.

However, It’s worth bearing in mind that these types of low risk asbestos-containing materials can naturally deteriorate over time due to things such as age, vibration, water damage and physical activity such as drilling, cutting, sawing, grinding and buffing, leading to the release of asbestos fibers, making asbestos exposure more likely.

As such, it’s important to identify all types of asbestos materials that may be present in a building, and in non domestic properties to have an asbestos management plan and risk register in place to help minimise the risks of exposure.

What diseases are linked to asbestos exposure?

The most common disease caused by asbestos exposure is asbestosis, a lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos over many years.

This long term disease causes scarring of the lungs and includes symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, chest pains and swollen fingertips.

Once a person develops asbestosis, there is no cure and no way to reverse the damage caused to the lungs. But there are treatments available which can make living with the disease more manageable, such as oxygen machines for example.

Another disease directly linked to asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, which is a cancer affecting the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) , stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or even testicles in men.

As of yet, there is no known cure for mesothelioma, but some medical treatments can help in managing the symptoms.

Symptoms are very similar to those of asbestosis mentioned above, but also include loss of appetite, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhoea and high body temperature.

All of these symptoms tend to develop very gradually over a long period of time, usually at least 20 years or more following exposure to asbestos.

As such, most people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma are aged 60 to 80, with men being diagnosed more than women.

Other diseases linked to asbestos exposure include pleural disease which is a thickening of the lining covering the lungs (pleura), and lung cancer.

It’s estimated that there is around one asbestos-related lung cancer diagnosis for every mesothelioma death.

Observed and projected death rates from Mesothelioma in UK
Observed and projected death rates from Mesothelioma in the UK

How can I protect myself against the dangers of asbestos?

A good starting point to protect yourself and others from the dangers of asbestos is to educate yourself and practice asbestos awareness.

If you work in construction or a related trade, then it’s advisable to take an asbestos awareness course, which will teach you all you need to know about asbestos, the dangers and how best to protect yourself whilst carrying out your work.

Depending on the type of job you do, you may need further training on handling asbestos, for example if you are an asbestos removal operative.

But just doing an asbestos awareness course alone is not enough and doesn’t prove competency in working with asbestos materials.

You must also follow good practice such as wearing the correct clothing (PPE) ie disposable clothing and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) ie face masks with filters. Together with ensuring you follow correct procedures and guidelines for the handling and disposing of asbestos.

If you don’t work in a trade, but are a homeowner or person who has duty to manage a non domestic premises, then it’s still beneficial to be asbestos aware and to familiarise yourself with asbestos legislation as detailed on the HSE website, as this will help you should you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation where asbestos is discovered and you need to know how best to deal with it.


Did you find this article interesting?  Then check out our other interesting articles below.

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their building so as not to put employees at risk.

So make sure you contact our Armco office to arrange asbestos testing or an asbestos survey, before it’s too late! 

Whether you need an asbestos management survey, or a refurbishment/ demolition survey, contact us on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting https://www.armco.org.uk/

Finally, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit https://www.armcoasbestostraining.co.uk/to book an asbestos awareness training course.

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Published Feb 04, 2020
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