Friday, 31 October 2014

Asbestos in the Workplace

Currently the subject of a huge campaign by HSE, the issue of asbestos in the workplace is one that should be acknowledged and understood by anyone who's work may bring them into contact with this deadly material, all too commonly found hiding in industrial, commercial and private properties.

Asbestos can be found in many of the common building materials of any house or building which was built before 2000 and it's effects account for, on average, the deaths of 20 tradespeople per week.

Contact with asbestos can occur when materials containing it are disturbed or damaged causing fibres to be released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can, over many years, cause serious diseases. Once the disease has developed it is often to late to do anything about it, therefore it is important to protect yourself now.

Where Is Asbestos Found? 

Asbestos is tricky to spot as it will usually be mixed in with other materials and can be found in multiple materials throughout a building, so care should be taken on any job where it may be uncovered. Some of its hiding places in industrial buildings include:

• Sprayed on coatings on walls, ceilings, beams and columns
• Asbestos cement
• Loose fill insulation
• AIB ceiling tiles, partition walls, fire doors (Asbestos Insulating Board)
• Vinyl floor tiles
• Textured decorative coating on walls and ceiling (such as Artex)
• Asbestos cement can also be found outside the building on the roof, in panels, gutters and downpipes.

In private homes it may be found in:

• Loose fill insulation
• Asbestos cement water tank
• AIB ceiling tiles, bath panel, partition walls, interior window panel, around boiler and behind fire
• Vinyl floor tiles
• Outside the building in panels, roofing, roofing felt and AIB exterior window panels

Where an employee is likely to be exposed to asbestos the employer should provide them with suitable PPE, appropriate for their job. Self employed tradespeople will need to properly kit themselves out in protective clothing. The following PPE is suitable for short term, non-licensed work only.

Disposable Overalls

• Use only disposable overalls as cotton may hold on to dust and fibres and would require specialist laundering. Use Type 5 (BS EN ISO 13982-1)
• Wear one size too big to prevent tearing
• If cuffs are loose seal them with tape
• Avoid wearing a long sleeve shirt as they are difficult to cover properly
• Wear overall legs over footwear, tucking them in will let dust into the shoe/ boot
• Wear the hood of the coverall over the RPE straps
• Dispose of used coveralls as asbestos waste


• If wearing protective gloves opt for single use, disposable ones. If you must wear latex gloves choose only 'low protein powder-free' gloves
• Dispose of gloves as asbestos waste


• Boots are preferable to overshoes which may pose a slipping risk
• Never use laced boots as these are difficult to properly clean

Respiratory Protection

Use suitable, well fitting RPE with an Assigned Protection Factor of 20 or more. Suitable types of RPE include:

• A disposable respirator to standards EN149 (type FFP3) or EN1827 (type FMP3)
• A half mask respirator to standard EN140 with a P3 filter, or;
• A semi-disposable respirator to EN405 with a P3 filter

When using RPE a fit test before use is essential to ensure the product fits well enough to be effective. RPE should be worn until well out of the area of contaminated air. As with all projects, the work should be well planned with the help of a risk assessment.

More information on asbestos can be found on the HSE Microsite >>

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