Health and Safety News

Occupational health and safety news and guidance

Asbestos guidance for workers

There have been several recent prosecutions of employers who have not effectively protected their employees and/or members of the public from asbestos:

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains that when asbestos fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

How can you protect yourself from asbestos at work?

During work (particularly maintenance, construction or demolition work), if you suspect something may be asbestos, stop and ask your supervisor/employer.

Not sure how to identify asbestos? The HSE has a gallery of examples of where you may find asbestos, including:

  • Asbestos insulating board (AIB)
  • Asbestos cement roofing and downpipes
  • Lagging
  • Sprayed asbestos

Make sure you are familiar with these images so that you are more likely to recognise it if you find it at work.

Asbestos can be found in many items used in construction before 2000. Buildings from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s are much more likely to have had asbestos used as a building material somewhere.

What should the person in charge of the job do?

There are a number of things they must do, including:

  • Find out if asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials if possible
  • Prepare a plan of work, explaining what the job involves, the work procedures, and what controls to use
  • Provide you with the right equipment, which is clean, in good working order, and protects you against asbestos

There are also things you should avoid doing, in order to protect yourself:

  • Don’t use methods that create a lot of dust, like using power tools
  • Don’t sweep up dust and debris - use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags
  • Don’t take home overalls used for asbestos work
  • Don’t reuse disposable clothing or masks
  • Don’t smoke, eat or drink in the work area

Further information about asbestos

The HSE has published a list of frequently asked questions relating to asbestos, providing detailed answers containing advice and links to further guidance.

Remember – if in doubt, ask – your employer has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees and anyone else who could be affected by the work being carried out.

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