Asbestos in the Workplace: An Employers Handbook

Accredited professional asbestos surveyor, Alpha Surveys, explain exactly what asbestos is, the risk it poses to employee health and how it can be properly managed by employers.

As an employer, it’s your duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment for your staff. But aside from controlling the obvious risks of injury and to health, there’s an invisible threat that must be properly managed.

Asbestos, a fibrous material often found in buildings constructed from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, has been banned in the UK since 1999. But for buildings constructed before this time, there’s a very real risk posed by this potentially life-threatening material.

Asbestos can be found in many areas of a building, from roof flashing to pipe cement, and can have detrimental effects on health should you come into contact with the material.

To keep your employees safe from any potential health risks posed by asbestos containing materials, it’s your responsibility to take the necessary actions needed to ensure your workplace is safe.

What is asbestos?

You might’ve heard of asbestos, but many don’t actually know what it is and where it’s found. But knowing the forms of asbestos, the common asbestos containing materials and where they’re commonly found is the first step in ensuring you and your employees stay safe.

A term for a group of minerals made up of microscopic fibres, before the dangers of asbestos were known, it was a common material in building. Used in insulation, flooring, plastering, roofing and more, asbestos containing material is very common in builds completed before 2001.

Asbestos: the risks

Asbestos poses a serious risk to employee health. Contact with it can lead to serious health problems long-term, including:

  • asbestos plaques
  • asbestosis (scarring of the lungs)
  • lung cancer
  • mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer of the lining of the body cavity)

Although the effects of coming into contact with asbestos can be life threatening, it’s important to note that If the asbestos-containing materials inside a buildings remain intact, they pose very little risk.

The risk to those in a building is only present if the asbestos containing material is disturbed, which causes the tiny asbestos fibres to be released into the air and breathed into your lungs.

Is there asbestos in your workplace?

If you suspect asbestos containing materials are present in any capacity, it’s important to ensure it’sprofessionally tested and, if necessary, removed.

As an employer, it is your legal duty to identify and manage any asbestos containing materials in your employees’ place of work, under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. As part of this regulation, the employer must have a risk assessment conducted, which identifies:

  • The type of asbestos present
  • The nature and level of potential exposure
  • Take action to reduce/eliminate the risk
  • Include arrangements to monitor exposure

Employees are within their right to ask for a copy of this risk assessment at any given time, and employers should work to supply one to all members of staff regardless.

Take action

If a professional asbestos survey identifies asbestos in your workplace, this does not necessarily mean your employees are in danger of contracting an asbestos-related health condition.

However, if asbestos containing materials are found to be present, it’s your duty as an employer to take the relevant action to ensure your employees are kept safe in the workplace.

Asbestos management plan

Using a professional asbestos surveyor to conduct your tests means that you have immediate advice from an industry professional. They will be able to advise, as well as provide a management plan, on the best course of action, whether that be preserving the asbestos in-situ or its removal, to ensure your workplace meets the necessary regulations.

Asbestos training

To ensure your employees risk of exposure is reduced as much as possible, you can also provide specialist asbestos training. This learning can help your employees understand the risks posed by asbestos and how to prevent them by spotting material disturbance and how they themselves could cause one.

Next steps

Whether you believe or know your employees’ workplace could contain asbestos, want more information about how to manage it properly or wish to provide your team with all the relevant information, advice and training regarding safety precautions, an asbestos sampling and/or management professional should always be your first point of contact.