Several court cases over recent months have publicised the ongoing problems of some building firms or waste removal companies failing to comply with basic mandatory health and safety procedures when beginning a property renovation or disposal of waste building materials. In too many cases, a lack of sufficient asbestos awareness led to work being carried out, which exposed both workmen and others in the area to breathing in the disturbed asbestos fibres.

The crucial importance of a thorough check for the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACM) cannot be underestimated. If the premises was first built or refurbished at any time up until the 1970s, 80s and even as late as the 1990s, then it is likely that white asbestos ( chrysotile) insulating material was still being used in building materials, most notably AIB (asbestos insulating board) used for bath panels, concrete water tanks, etc. Asbestos was also most commonly used for boiler houses, ceilings, balconies and walkways in system-built council housing.

Throughout most of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of heavy industry workers are known to have succumbed to the fatal asbestos disease, asbestosis and the aggressive malignant cancer, mesothelioma. While most victims were working in manufacturing, engineering, vehicle, railway and shipbuilding, many employed in the building industry trades were exposed to risk when handling asbestos containing materials.

From first exposure to when asbestosis symptoms are confirmed, between 15 – 50 years can elapse, which often means the victim may only have between 4 – 12 months to live and unlikely to survive to hear the results of their asbestosis claim.

A safety check for determining asbestos-containing materials must always be made, especially as to it’s condition and whether or not it is “friable”, i.e. easily crumbled, or reduced to powder by the pressure of a human hand. Any attempt to handle friable asbestos material will release asbestos fibre dust into the atmosphere, which is all too easily breathed in to the lungs or lining of the lungs (pleura).

In addition, fibres can remain in the air for weeks if they are not contained immediately when the material is disturbed and the remaining debris can also continue to release fibre dust into the air if not securely contained all the way to an authorised disposal site.

Although there are categories of “non-friable” asbestos material covering items, such as packing, gaskets, resilient floor covering and asphalt roofing products, both friable and non-friable materials are considered equally as extreme dangerous and potentially fatal hazards.

A non-friable asbestos material can become friable due to age, exposure to sunlight, liquids or other means which have broken down the material. Also, a non-friable asbestos material can be easily and instantly disturbed if subject to drilling, sanding, grinding, cutting, or abrading. It is vital to notify approved asbestos removal contractors if any material is suspected of containing asbestos fibres or seek asbestos advice if an exposure has already taken place.