With the prevalence of asbestos remaining high throughout the UK, there is a good chance that most trades will encounter the substance throughout the course of their duties - both knowingly but also unwittingly too. In this article we’ll provide the essential asbestos knowledge that any trade will need before starting work on a new site.
If you’re working on a new build, you don’t have to worry about the asbestos risk within the building itself. However, if the site was built before the year 2000 there is a chance that there could be asbestos present and you should work in line with the risk controls as determined by the site manager, or whoever is responsible for asbestos management.
Don’t forget that asbestos may be present in mobile plant or equipment that is in use on new building sites (granted, it would have to be very old equipment - but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility). If you’re going to use or work on site equipment, it’s worth finding out how old it is and the likelihood of it being manufactured with asbestos containing components.
Understanding what kind of site you’re going to work on, and what to expect, is the first step of your essential asbestos knowledge.
Once on site, and before you start work for the first time, you should be given a health and safety induction by the site management, or a delegated party.
During this induction you’ll be informed of what the key health and safety risks are for the site and associated with the activities you’ll be carrying out.
At this point, you should be given essential asbestos knowledge and instructions, specifically:
The safety information you are provided with will have been produced in line with asbestos surveys, lab analysis, and reports carried out and produced by a competent assessor and lab - so you know you can trust it.
If you aren’t given any information about the asbestos risks on site, you should request it before starting work.
It is your legal duty to take responsibility for your own actions while on site - as well as to comply with instructions you may be given which facilitate the site manager in fulfilling their own safety obligations.
This means that once you’ve been inducted and signed the paperwork, declaring that you understand the instructions given, you must abide by the conditions and rules laid out.
Safety procedures and protocols exist to keep you and your co-workers safe and healthy. Failure to ‘follow the rules’ puts you at risk as well as your co-workers, employers, the site owners, and even the general public.
Once you’ve been inducted and are aware of the health and safety risks present on site, including asbestos, you can start applying your essential asbestos knowledge at work.
ACMs, however, can deteriorate over time, especially if the conditions or environment that they are in changes (for example, if it becomes wetter as may be the case during a demolition or refurbishment). Be mindful of this and consider that the controls in place to protect you from any asbestos present on site may no longer be valid.
An example of this may be cement asbestos roof or wall tiles which may become damaged throughout work activities.
If you notice any ACMs that have been broken or deteriorated, or if you disturb asbestos during work:
Remember, throughout the general course of your duties, (unless they are directly related to working with asbestos and as such you are competent and licensed to do so) you must not handle or work with any ACMs. If a situation arises where you are required to become exposed to asbestos, stop, assess the task (to determine alternative methods) and if no solution can be found, consult with site management.
While working, remain alert to your surroundings and consider the materials around you as they may contain asbestos. Common places to find asbestos are in textured roof finishes, floor tiles, wall coverings, pipe lagging, gaskets on pipes and equipment, electrical fuse and junction boxes, and exterior roof and wall cladding. You’ll never remember 100% of the safety information you’re given before work, so it is wise to be aware of where ACMs may be present on the worksite.
If you know that you have definitely disturbed asbestos containing materials while working, again, stop. There is no way to be sure how much asbestos is now released into the work environment, or resting on your clothes, PPE, or tools. For this reason, these should all be decontaminated and if required, disposed of as hazardous waste.
If you disturb asbestos during work, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the working environment, your clothes, and PPE/RPE, and also any tools present. Here’s some essential asbestos knowledge to keep you safe while cleaning up:
Remember to avoid sweeping any areas as far as is practical to avoid releasing asbestos fibres into the air.
Once cleaned up, the site manager will decide whether a licensed contractor is required to remove the ACMs, based on the type of asbestos, the material(s) the asbestos is held in, the condition of the ACMs, and how long it will take to carry out the work.
Asbestos is a deadly substance so it’s crucial to exercise caution when working on any older job site. If you keep in mind all of the essential asbestos knowledge in this article, however, you’ll be on track to keep yourself and your co-workers safe and healthy.