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Why the UK’s awareness of asbestos is still lacking

Photo shows a corrugated cement roofIt’s the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, yet there are still far too many people who are blissfully unaware of the problem. I am of course referring to asbestos.

Although the potentially deadly substance was completely banned outright in Britain in 1999, there are still many buildings throughout the country that contain asbestos. Untouched, the material will not harm you - it’s the fibres that become airborne when it is broken up that cause all the problems, which is why there are strict laws attached to the removal of asbestos.

Despite the huge risks involved, it’s worrying that so many people still have their heads buried in the sand.

“It won’t affect me”

Many people think that because asbestos has been banned for so long, they needn’t worry about it. While this is an understandable attitude, it’s a dangerous one.

School buildings, garage roofs, factories and older houses, asbestos can crop up anywhere and it’s vital that you know what to do if you do come into contact with it. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has clear guidelines to follow and is constantly running campaigns to raise awareness of the “hidden killer”.

It’s vital that you don’t automatically assume that you won’t be affected.

Sobering statistics

Data released by the HSE earlier this year showed that while fatal workplace injury rates are falling annually across the UK, the number of deaths being linked to mesothelioma - one of the four main diseases caused by exposure to asbestos - increased to 2,535 in 2012. This was up from 2,291 deaths in 2011 and there are fears that this figure could rise even further in the coming years.

An article published by the Oxford Mail in August 2014 suggested that asbestos-related deaths are set to reach a record high in Oxfordshire in the next six years. Solicitors across the county said they’d noticed an increase in the number of compensation claims being launched, especially from people who were exposed to asbestos while working on local power plants between the 1950s and 1970s.

The key message here, aside from the worrying rise in asbestos exposure cases, is that most diseases that are linked to the substance do not rear their head for many decades. Of course, asbestos was a popular building material 50 years ago and regulations were not in place to protect those who worked with it, which explains why more historical cases are now suddenly coming to the fore.

What to do if you suspect you’ve found asbestos

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 was updated in April 2012 in order to bring the UK closer in line with EU legislation.

In a nutshell, laws dictate that asbestos waste should only be handled by a licensed agent, so if you suspect you’ve found asbestos in your home or place of work, pick up the phone immediately and don’t attempt to move it yourself. It’s really not worth it.

The general lack of asbestos awareness means people sometimes remove it without realising it. Asbestos can be found in pipe lagging, insulation boards, old downpipes and guttering, floor and ceiling tiles and even fire blankets. It’s important to remember that asbestos was commonly used by building companies because of its excellent insulating properties, so this should help you to identify the material.

Be careful and you should have no problems.

Author bio

Dave Wilson works for Danmarque Garages - one of the UK’s leading specialists in the refurbishment of concrete sectional garages and replacement of asbestos corrugated roofs.

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