The legacy of non-occupational asbestos exposure still continues to this day. Not only teachers but also former office and shop workers can be diagnosed with an asbestosis disease or even mesothelioma cancer caused by a long period of employment in premises built with ACMs where the invisible fibre dust particles were breathed in almost daily.

In most cases, there was no knowledge that asbestos was contained in the fabric of the building and can be a devastating shock to a former worker and their family when an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed three or four decades later when asbestosis symptoms first appear.

The sources of potential exposure risk to asbestos today in the UK can be mostly found in public buildings, such as schools or hospitals, which were built or later refurbished up until the first asbestos ban was introduced in the mid 1980s. Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can also be unexpectedly uncovered by builders during residential / council estate housing projects and reported in the local press.

Despite the first asbestos ban, white “chrysotile” asbestos continued to be used for at least another ten years and, inevitably, found its way into a variety of public commercial premises, often including offices, retail units and large department stores.

Asbestos in the public domain

A grim reminder of how asbestos use could be widespread in the public domain came to light recently when a former Marks and Spencer store was discovered to possess significant quantities of AIB ( asbestos insulating board) during premises refurbishment.

As is regularly reported, a pre-works survey had not been carried out to check for the presence of asbestos and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was alerted when they were notified by a “non-licensed” asbestos removals firm first asked to provide a quotation, who knew that the present work required to be undertaken by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

The subsequent HSE investigation found not only a failure by the chosen building firm to carry out an asbestos survey but also workers had already spent several weeks demolishing walls and ceilings and breaking up the asbestos insulation board. Consequently, large quantities of airborne asbestos fibres had spread through the inside and outside of the building during the work.

The removal contractors pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and were fined a total £10,566 inc. costs. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires that all AIB removal to be undertaken by a licensed contractor and  suitable control measures out in place to prevent exposure and spread of the asbestos fibres.

Insulation products for UK building

Public knowledge and asbestos awareness to the health risks of potential exposure have improved significantly since the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the fibres were widely used in the production of insulation products for UK building, engineering and manufacturing.

It is also not uncommon for local community residents to quickly find out that the ground soil of former factory sites and engineering works still contains asbestos waste. Plans by local authorities to develop asbestos disposal sites are also, robustly campaigned against because of local environmental concerns.