Discovery of asbestos material within public buildings, including schools, hospitals, libraries, retail stores, restaurants, offices and storage facilities, continue to make press headlines.

It is often reported that control and disposal procedures of the deadly material have not been followed due to an apparent lack of asbestos awareness by particular individuals and consequently, a serious health hazard was posed to site contractors, company employees and members of the public.

However, when asbestos was recently found in service ducts during a routine safety check at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, health authorities confirmed there was no risk posed to any of the staff, patients, wards or offices in the building. This was because the asbestos had originally been safely encapsulated in the 1980s to prevent the deadly fibres from being released into the surrounding air.

A fortunate but all too rare occurrence!

Asbestos was widely used in the manufacture of insulation materials for the building industry throughout the twentieth century, and up until the 1980s, chrysotile white asbestos board, cement mixtures and textured coatings continued to be used until a final ban was imposed in 1998.

When the material is uncovered many years later, often in a worn and friable ( fragile) condition, the safest procedure is not to remove but to ‘manage’ by safe encapsulation with an accompanying asbestos management plan, staff asbestos awareness training and routine safety checks. A duty to manage asbestos is set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2006 to those responsible for protecting others who work in non-domestic premises.

Encapsulation ensures that asbestos fibres are not released into the surrounding air. Once the fibres are inhaled they remain permanently embedded in the lung linings (pleura), eventually causing asbestosis diseases or the fatal, incurable, mesothelioma cancer.

A long incubation period means that the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms are only apparent from between 15 to 50 years later, often when the victim is elderly, and a confirmed diagnosis may only give a 4 – 12 month survival rate.

Many men and women who worked in buildings, which contained asbestos insulation yet were either unaware or partially knew of its’ existence – or were not supplied with asbestos health risk information, have fallen victim to asbestos-related disease.

Figures released by the HSE show more than 1.8 million people in the UK are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year. In 2008, death from mesothelioma reached 2,249 and a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths can be expected by 2050.

There is currently a three year limit for a patient or spouse to make a mesothelioma claim of a former employer or insurance company through an asbestosis lawyer acting on the victim’s behalf.