12-09-2013

Although asbestos was frequently used as a building material between the 50s and 80s due to its rigidity and fire resistance, its fibres can be very dangerous when inhaled over a period of time.

There is a chance any properties - be they commercial, residential or specialist buildings such as hospitals - constructed before 2000 can contain asbestos and in many cases materials with the fibres will remain in good condition, posing no threat. However, the dust can lead to illness when it becomes airborne – often while building or renovation work is being carried out.

There are three variations of the fibres asbestos surveyors will be on the lookout for - blue asbestos (crocidolite), brown asbestos (amosite) and white asbestos (chrysotile). All three can cause problems, although blue and brown are more dangerous than white.

Symptoms of exposure may not emerge for many decades, but when they do, they can lead to serious lung diseases, cancer or even death. In fact, it is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with four plumbers, 20 tradesmen, eight joiners and six electricians killed every week. Overall, around 4,000 people die every year.

Exposure to asbestos is also the leading cause of mesothelioma in the UK and according to Macmillan, around 2,300 people are diagnosed every year. This is a cancer that affects the thin membrane around the chest and abdomen.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) notes everyone is exposed to low levels of asbestos every day - it is present in the environment all around them. However, builders and tradesmen can face fibre levels hundreds of times greater than they would naturally, which is when it becomes dangerous and they risk suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Therefore, proper asbestos management is essential and safety must be a priority for anyone working in the sector.

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