Asbestos risk: Moving from awareness to action

It’s a stark fact that asbestos-related diseases are estimated to cause around 5,000 deaths every year in Great Britain. In light of this shocking figure, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) deserves credit for highlighting the very real dangers of this now-banned substance through the launch of its new Asbestos & You campaign.

The initiative is explicitly targeted at younger workers in trades such as plastering and joinery who started out in their careers after asbestos was banned in 1999. According to the HSE, this is a group that “need to take the risk of asbestos much more seriously” as they might mistakenly think it’s only relevant to older workers who were in employment prior to the ban.

The truth, of course, is that asbestos is still present in millions of buildings constructed pre-2000 and tradespeople of all ages could be exposed to asbestos fibres as part of their everyday work. Raising awareness of this danger is a critical first step in helping protect workers, but in doing so, the HSE campaign also raises important questions. For example, is awareness of the problem matched by awareness of the available solutions? When there’s suspicion of asbestos, is it clear what people should do or where they can go for help?

At Envirochem, our wealth of analytical expertise helps clients manage a range of environmental risks from a variety of sources, including asbestos. Here we look at the best-practice approaches to managing this highly carcinogenic substance.

Be prepared

Under regulation 4 of The Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012, every non-domestic building should be surveyed as part of a duty to “take reasonable steps” to ascertain whether asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are present in the premises, where they are located and what condition they are in. This information is contained within an asbestos register that should be available to any contractors to inform them about any asbestos present. In cases where a building is being refurbished or the work involves demolition, a Major refurbishment/demolition asbestos survey is required to locate and identify all asbestos materials so they can be safely removed. Before starting any work, request a copy of the asbestos register from the asbestos survey or get confirmation that the asbestos has been appropriately removed so you’re aware of what you are dealing with.

If in doubt, stop

If you do come across what you think might be asbestos, cease work immediately. Even if you are under time pressure, don’t be tempted to assess the risk yourself, work around the situation or, worse, carry on regardless. It’s essential that appropriate personnel with management responsibility are informed of the potential danger and then tests are conducted to confirm the properties of the material in question.

Seek out expert help

If you are unsure about what to do, seek out expert advice. You might be tempted to start this journey with a Google search, in which case, make sure the information you are accessing is from a verified, trustworthy source. Better still, speak to someone with knowledge and experience of managing asbestos risks. Independent consultancies will be able to respond to any queries and guide you through next steps in terms of sampling, surveys and testing. All analytical testing should be carried out to the internationally recognized standard ISO/IEC 17025 by companies accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

Take appropriate action

Where asbestos is present, the level of risk involved will determine whether it should be dealt with by a licensed or non-licensed contractor. In either case, the work should be carried out under highly controlled conditions to a plan of work by trained individuals and with relevant insurance in place. Again, expert consultancies can provide valuable support on the nature of the work required and how it should be carried out. At Envirochem, we are always on hand to offer professional advice and guidance where these questions arise.

For anyone in the trades – young or old – the above steps provide some practical, essential guidance on what to do when faced with the possible threat of asbestos, a substance that might now be banned but certainly has yet to be consigned to history. Indeed, Mesothelioma UK’s ‘Don’t let the dust settle’ campaign reminds us that a possible 6 million tonnes of asbestos could still be present in 1.5 million buildings across the UK.

Looking to the future, it’s not only important that such campaigns maintain awareness levels among those potentially exposed, but that individuals also know they can access a network of asbestos experts to mitigate their personal risk. Perhaps less a case of Asbestos & You and more a case of Us vs Asbestos.

If you would like any more information about the risks from asbestos or the UKAS-accredited sampling, surveys and testing services available from Envirochem, get in touch with our team today by email ( or by calling 01329 287 777. If you would prefer us to get in touch with you, please fill out the form below;

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