Matt Dunn from STORM Consultancy watched over by the Grim Reaper!
‘ASBESTOS’, even the word alone strikes fear into the majority of people. Shrouded in mystery and myth, little is commonly known about this ubiquitous building material that surrounds our families, our children at school and even our colleagues at work. It is everywhere. Yet this little 9 letter word is responsible for 4500 deaths per year. Sadly, death is agonizing and slow and proudly holds the mantel as being biggest UK industrial killer. Alarmingly, it is predicted to get worse and that by 2015 this silent reaper will cut short the lives of 5500+ per year. So what makes this mysterious material so lethal and why can’t we stop the march of this hungry assassin?
In this article Jonathan Cunningham MBE from STORM Consultancy attempts to demystify and has recently joined the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) initiative to pledge hundreds of free training hours to local tradesmen.
Mention the word ‘asbestos’ and three things spring to mind, ‘garages roofs’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘expensive’! Everyone has heard about it but sadly few are genuinely knowledgeable leaving the doorway open for the unscrupulous to exploit the ignorant.
It is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral mined across the world. Largest produces include South Africa, Russia and Canada. It has been used by man since civilization began and was even known as the ancient jewel in 4000 bc. It was first used as wicks in lamps and even used to embalm the bodies of Egyptian Pharaohs! Over the years Britain has imported 6 million tones since the late 1800s and has used it in just about every item you could imagine; even underwear and cigarettes!
But how have we been seduced by asbestos? The physical properties of asbestos are northing less than outstanding. A single fibre is 100 times stronger than a fibre of steel, it resists fire, it has fabulous sound proofing qualities, it is the best electrical insulator known and it is resistant to the ravages of weather and chemicals. This versatility meant that it has been used in just about every building, textile and composite known. As a nation our love for asbestos peaked in the 1950s and 60s, even Marvel Comics brought out Asbestos Man to rid the world of all evils. We used it everywhere; ships, trains and boilers are even lined with it. We have fire proofed buildings with it, we have used it for tiling, flooring, roofs, pipe lagging even toilets are made of the stuff. It is in schools, factories, houses, cinemas, even your common pub loo is full of it. To the unknowing it is only on next door’s garage roof; to the informed it is everywhere! But since the 70s our love affair for asbestos has turned into a prolonged an acrimonious divorce as the dangers of this silent mistress have become apparent.
There are 3 main types of asbestos, white, brown and blue. White asbestos is what covers your garage roof, ‘Brown’ is ideal fire insulation and commonly found in converted houses, schools and factories. But ‘Blue’ is the worst type, as it has tiny super straight fibres that are more easily inhaled and puncture your lung lining. They are so small 2 million fibres could sit on the end of a sewing needle!
The health effects are well advertised but little understood. The problem is that once these fibres penetrate your lungs they are unable to be released so remain trapped forever causing more damage. Common effects include asbestosis (a sever form of asthma), Plaural Plaque (thickening of the lungs lining) and mesothelioma (asbestos related lungs cancer). To date the youngest person to die has been Leigh Carlisle (28) from Manchester who died in 2008 from mesothelioma. Typically symptoms show themselves between 10 – 40 years after exposure. Sadly only now those who breathed in the toxic dust following the collapse of the Twin Towers some are showing shadowing on their lungs. The real death toll from that terrible day will be must higher!
So why are people still dying? Well, it was only until 1999 that all asbestos was finally banned in the UK. This means that only houses built after 2001 are positively asbestos free. That will come as a shocking surprise to many. However, the real cause is the long latency period before this horrendous disease becomes evident. Everyday tradesmen and women are unknowingly exposed to these lethal asbestos fibres as they cut, saw and tamper with this material. Plumbers, electricians, painters, shop refitters, carpenters, those involved in IT and demolition are all hazardous risk employment sectors. Sadly, complacency is everywhere and lack of awareness and shear ignorance is the main cause of death for many. Question how many nursing homes have an asbestos survey? If they haven’t they are breaking the law and putting residents and staff at risk. Most importantly there is no exposure safe limit; all exposure is hazardous and should be avoided at all costs.
So what should you do to fight off the Reaper?
- Manage your asbestos in your building; ensure you know where it is. Commission an asbestos management survey.
- Protect your contractors. If you are refurbishing or demolishing a building then commission a pre-demolition and refurbishment asbestos survey.
- If your staff interfere work on buildings (e.g. caretakers or trades) then ensure they are asbestos aware trained.
Southport based STORM Consultancy is one of the few UK companies that are playing its part in a Britain wide drive to help tradesmen protect themselves from asbestos.
STORM Consultancy has accepted the invitation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by pledging 200 free training hours to help reach a target of 4500 a number which reflects the approximate number of deaths each year from asbestos related diseases.
The free asbestos awareness training will be available throughout October and November and is aimed at tradesmen who are most likely to disturb the fibres as they go about their work, around 20 a week lose their lives to asbestos-related diseases.
STORM is offering a discounted rate for all asbestos surveys booked over October and November. [Quote Grim Reaper]
STORM Consultancy will be delivering FREE asbestos awareness training on Thursday 13th October on Merseyside. If you would like to book a place or places for your staff then phone STORM Consultancy on 0845 894 6342 or visit [email protected]
Don’t let the grim reaper win…phone STORM to book your FREE place.