Hospitals have been known to be vulnerable to outbreaks of MRSA or Legionnaire’s Disease but just this month, the presence of asbestos has added to the deadly catalogue of fatal safety risk, literally contained within the walls of a public health and care environment.
It has been assumed that the chief culprits of the lack of asbestos awareness risk in public building development were the fourteen thousand school premises built between 1945 and 1975, nearly all of which, were constructed with materials produced with large quantities of chrysotile (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) asbestos.
However, it seems that asbestos material was discovered within the fabric of Birminghams’ old Queen Elizabeth Hospital, built in the 1930s. Although, the majority of all inpatients had already been relocated to the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital, concern is still being expressed over the announcement by the University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust that ongoing NHS cutbacks will prohibit plans for asbestos removal and site renovations.
This means that it is more than likely that wards that are now falling into disuse will not only not be adapted for better purposes, but because of the presence of asbestos, an additional dangerous health risk is prevalent from deteriorating ‘friable’ asbestos.
Accidental disturbance of asbestos-containing construction materials pose a considerable risk of breathing in dangerous levels of asbestos fibre dust, which once released into the air, are all too easily inhaled and will imbed themselves within the lungs and membrane cavities. Even a short exposure could cause lung disease, pleural thickening or plaques, asbestosis or the deadly malignant cancer, mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, the first signs of asbestosis symptoms do not appear not until some 15–50 years after asbestos exposure, and often leaving the victim with only a year or less to live.
Although it has been stated that there are no plans for removal, regular health and safety inspections will be conducted to monitor the material’s condition. Since the 1970s, the majority of asbestos had already been removed leaving the remainder of asbestos encapsulated and sealed in the service ducts, in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
In addition, an asbestos register and management control procedures are in place to ensure there is no risk to staff, visitors or patients until the future development of the site can be determined over the next 12 to 24 months.