Extract from Asbestos: legal requirements and best practice for property professionals and clients UK 4th edition, May 2021
Asbestos is the general term used for a group of six fibrous silicate minerals. Any product or material containing one or more of these fibrous silicates falls under the legal definition of asbestos. The risk from particular asbestos containing materials (ACMs) is determined by their friability: the ease with which they release fibres. The higher the friability, the greater the potential risk.
Products and materials containing asbestos were in use throughout the 20th century, with the peak period of production during the 1960s and 1970s. Its use was finally prohibited in Great Britain in 1999 and in Northern Ireland in 2000, with a few very limited exceptions.
It has been estimated that there are over 3,500 different products that contain asbestos. The most common are building and industrial materials such as bitumen-, plastic- and resin-based products, thermal insulation (pipe and boiler lagging), boards, panels, textiles and other composite materials.
The presence of ACMs in buildings has been linked to a range of diseases. All types of asbestos are classified as group 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization (WHO). This classification is given to substances that are known to be carcinogenic to humans. Worldwide, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos exposure, and over 5,500 of these deaths occur in the UK.
The fibres attack the vulnerable parts of the lung, such as the lining, upper bronchi and alveoli, which can cause diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis that only become evident after a latency period of between 20 and 50 years. For asbestos fibres to enter the lung system, the ACM needs to be physically disturbed in some way. An ACM in good condition will present little to no risk because it will not release asbestos fibres. Exposure to asbestos can be categorised as either occupational exposure or non-occupational exposure:
- Individuals experience occupational exposure if their work brings them into contact with ACMs. This
includes professionals in both the licensed and non-licensed asbestos removal sectors.
- Individuals experience non-occupational exposure if they are exposed to a poorly-maintained ACM
unexpectedly during the course of their work day or at home.
In order to prevent exposure, the ACM should be identified. Professionals should then ensure that it is not disturbed and is adequately maintained.
This can be achieved in three steps:
- Locate the ACM.
- Ensure all appropriate parties are aware of its location.
- Ensure it is kept in good condition.
Any ACMs that have been removed will need to be suitably bagged prior to disposal. There are different rules depending on whether the waste is defined as being fibrous or bonded. Small amounts of asbestos waste – such as a few bags – can be transported in a van as long as the company holds a Waste Carrier Licence. Larger amounts will need to be loaded into a sealed skip on site and removed by a similarly licensed carrier.