Any building constructed before 2000 is thought to contain an ACM (Asbestos Containing Material) of one type or another. They are found in schools, hospitals, factories, public buildings even domestic properties, so asbestos has woven itself into our lives, but largely unseen.
The properties and versatility of asbestos made it an excellent building material. As a good thermal insulator it has been used to lag pipes and protect structural steelwork. It is also an excellent electrical insulating material and its high tensile strength has been used to give that strength to a wide range of other products such as gaskets. The long flexible fibres have been woven into cloth and rope used for fire protection and sealing of joints.
Add to all this the fact that it is highly resilient and does not degrade; it is not surprising it was used so widely. However, unfortunately it can also be deadly! Large numbers of people are now dying from past exposure to asbestos and will continue to do so unless action is taken.
If you own, occupy, manage or have responsibilities for non-domestic premises which may contain asbestos you have a legal duty to manage the risk from this material.
There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises today. These are commonly called ‘blue asbestos’ (crocidolite), ‘brown asbestos’ (amosite) and ‘white asbestos’ (chrysotile). All of them are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos’ are more hazardous than white, but unfortunately you cannot identify them by their colour.
Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many thousands of tonnes of it were used in the past and much of it is still in place. As long as it is in good condition and is not being or going to be disturbed or damaged there is no risk. But if it is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people can breathe them in.
Up to 1,500,000 commercial, industrial and public buildings in the UK are likely to contain asbestos materials. Unless this material is properly managed anyone who has access to the buildings, including employees, the public and building/maintenance workers is at risk from breathing in the life-threatening fibres of asbestos.
An asbestos survey is now required due to new law legislation and is highly advisable for the health and safety of a workforce, friends or family.