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What you should know about asbestos

Craig, from the Health and Safety Executive, explains how he's helping prevent asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. 

What you need to know about asbestos

Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer that’s almost always related to asbestos exposure. It can be fatal. In my job at HSE, I help make sure that dangerous asbestos is dealt with in the right way, meaning fewer people are affected by diseases like mesothelioma.

Asbestos was a widely used material in buildings until 1999, when it was banned. Unfortunately, materials containing asbestos are still found in buildings built or refurbished before 1999. When these materials are disturbed, asbestos fibres can be released into the air and inhaled.

Here's what you need to know. 

What is asbestos?

It's important to make sure you know what asbestos is - a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres previously used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and sprayed on ceilings and walls.

If you’re going to do work on a building, you or your employer needs to check if asbestos in the area where you’ll be working. To help you, owners of industrial, commercial and public buildings should have a register showing the location and type of asbestos-containing materials in their premises.

Many cases of short-term exposure to asbestos have little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects. Don't panic, and visit your GP instead. 

Domestic properties don’t need to have an asbestos register, but many local authorities and housing associations prepare them anyway.

If you can, avoid disturbing asbestos

The best way to avoid asbestos in the workplace is to avoid disturbing it. If you can’t do that, work that disturbs asbestos needs to be done by people with the right training. You need to make sure you prevent or minimise the asbestos fibres released into the air and use the correct kit.

Get all the facts

It's good to know the facts. At HSE, we make sure we give people as much information about asbestos as possible. That includes telling people what the risks from asbestos are, what the law requires, and how people can comply with it.

We also have details of what you should do if you’re worried there’s something in your workplace that you think is breaking health and safety law.

Don’t panic!

If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s understandable to be anxious and concerned about the possible effects on their health.

But many cases of inadvertent, short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely have led to minimum exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects.

If you’re concerned about possible exposure to asbestos, don’t panic. Instead, visit your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record about possible exposure, including dates, duration, and if you know them, the type of asbestos and likely exposure levels.

What are we doing to help

In October 2018, HSE inspectors launched a national health inspection programme. They visited construction sites across the country to see whether builders’ lungs are being protected from asbestos.

Our Go Home Healthy campaign is shining a light on workers’ health, focusing on 3 key priority areas: work-related stress, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung disease. 

As part of this campaign and our wider work, we run awareness-raising activities and work closely with our partners, such as the British Lung Foundation, in their efforts to raise awareness of the dangers from asbestos.  

Learn more about asbestos and asbestos-related conditions

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21 September 2018