As we have written about before, asbestos exposure is still an issue that is causing death. Despite legislation protecting people from asbestos negligence (passed between 1970 and 1999), the deaths of people who were exposed 20 or more years ago are still happening each year.
Deaths from the various types of asbestos-related illnesses peaked between about 2018 and 2020 and are starting to decline. How quickly they decline is yet to be seen. But we know from our day-to-day experience that exposure is still occurring. So, what are the reasons for this?
Ignorance of the possibility of asbestos
‘It’s illegal now, so we won’t have any, surely?’ But if your building was built or refurbished between the 1940s and 1999 there’s a high chance that it does contain asbestos. Unless it was removed by previous owners. But, for them, the remaining reasons applied, as they do now.
Ignorance of the danger posed by asbestos
There is a myth that not all types of asbestos are dangerous. Actually, they are all dangerous but to different degrees. Yes, the condition of the asbestos is a big factor in determining how hazardous it is. But we should never be complacent. Changes in the condition of material can happen through degradation over time or through the actions of others whether intentional or not.
Belief in false claims by others
Now, some of this may well be about believing what you want to believe. But there is definitely an element of ‘I reckon that’ll be fine pal’ or ‘My mate Dave used to work in the building trade and he reckons it should be fine’.
The thing is, unless you’ve had it surveyed by a qualified and competent asbestos surveyor, then sampled and tested at a UKAS accredited laboratory (if applicable) then you won’t know for sure.
And, on top of that, there is the issue of legal compliance. You will not be compliant without the appropriate surveys done at the appropriate times and a management plan for any known asbestos.
Yes, there is a cost to getting the appropriate surveys done at the right time. But they are legally required.
There is also a cost to be paid if you have asbestos that needs to be remediated or removed.
We get the feeling that some building owners are trying to create plausible deniability by simply not having asbestos officially confirmed. We can assure you however that this will not help you if there is an HSE investigation which can lead to a criminal prosecution.
Time and again we hear the refrain ‘There’s no asbestos in there mate.’ Guess how many times this turns out not to be the case? It’s quite a high proportion.
Sometimes it’s obvious to us at first glance. Other times it takes a thorough survey to find it in specific areas.
Bad service from tradespeople
We have seen cases in which potential asbestos has been flagged at the end of a job. It’s hard to tell whether that’s done through failure to understand the importance of the issue or a desire to get paid (possibly twice, as the job might need doing again after asbestos removal).
If it’s the former, then asbestos awareness training will help. If it’s the latter then we doubt we can help.
Damaging asbestos-containing materials through lack of care is not as uncommon as it should be. We’ve seen ceilings and walls removed, holes drilled, and surfaces removed, all containing asbestos. The most egregious thing here is that this kind of work then contaminates the room with asbestos fibres. And, depending on the circumstances, it might expose staff, visitors, and the general public. If it’s in an open space such as a garage then the asbestos materials could be sent far and wide.
We’ve even seen asbestos-containing materials piled up ready for removal and disposal. This of course poses a danger to the public and whoever is potentially transporting the waste and receiving it.
It is possible to experience unforeseen damage to asbestos materials when those materials would otherwise remain safe if monitored and managed. For example, impact damage.
A major fire can release otherwise safe asbestos fibres into the air. This is one of the reasons the advice from the fire service is often to keep doors and windows closed in the vicinity of a fire.
So, there are lots of reasons why asbestos exposure is still possible. If you are a building or business owner, then our advice to you is to plan, get expert advice when required, and treat asbestos as the serious health and safety matter that it is.
As always, we are happy to advise if you contact us.
We have detailed on our site the different types of asbestos survey.