Danger asbestos

UKATA Member Aven Training Partnership Highlights Asbestos Dangers

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The following article has been provided by UKATA member The Aven Training Partnership Ltd.

What is asbestos and why is it so dangerous?

We’ve all heard of asbestos and that it can be deadly to health, but what is asbestos and what industries have used asbestos over the years?

Asbestos is a group of six natural minerals made up of heat-resistant fibres, popular because they could be used in a wide range of industries and added to cloth, paper, cement, plastic, and other materials to make them stronger.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, asbestos can potentially be found in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000 and accounts for in the region of 5,000 deaths in this country every year.

Asbestos has been used widely in insulation products, but it’s now known that if asbestos dust is inhaled the fibres can become trapped in the body causing inflammation and scarring in the lungs over years, possibly leading to deadly diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and the aggressive cancer – mesothelioma.

There is no way to reverse the terrible damage it causes.

The three most common types of asbestos fibres used in the UK were blue (known as crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile).

Microscopic asbestos fibres are easily inhaled once they become airborne which is why products containing asbestos must never be disturbed. If asbestos inside buildings is left alone it poses no real danger, when effectively managed.

The Government treated the danger so seriously that it demanded strict regulation, currently The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Regulation 10, Information, Instruction and Training of this document states:

This regulation requires employers to make sure that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their work, or who supervises such employees, receives the correct level of information, instruction and training to enable them to carry out their work safely and competently and without risk to themselves or others”

The not-for-profit UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) – a leading authority for asbestos training - is dedicated to saving lives from asbestos and has around 200 trusted training companies delivering asbestos awareness courses

One of its asbestos awareness training members in the north of England is the Aven Training Partnership based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, which trains huge organisations such as local councils down to small and medium businesses and offers asbestos awareness training.

How was asbestos used?

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Asbestos was used in buildings for insulation, flooring, roofing, and was sprayed on ceilings and walls. Its use is now banned in the UK, but buildings refurbished or constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them.

People who worked in industries such as construction, shipbuilding, vehicle brake pad manufacturers, textile industry when making heat-resistant products such as fire blankets, ceiling and floor tiles, insulation and pipe-lagging industries may have been exposed to asbestos, especially from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Asbestos was often sprayed on steel columns, aluminium sheets and other metal structures that needed to withstand high temperatures.

It was also used in lots of public buildings such as hospital and schools and there are increasing numbers of nurses, teachers and former pupils suffering with severe asbestos-related illnesses.

Today, people are only likely to encounter asbestos if it is disturbed or damaged in old buildings which is why the asbestos awareness course from the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) delivered by Aven Training in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, is so important.

What are mesothelioma and asbestosis and who can suffer from them?

People most at risk are those who worked in industries that used asbestos many years ago as they will have breathed in the tiny asbestos fibres which will have caused damage to their lungs over several years, sometimes leading to the lung disease asbestosis.

However, people who have lived with a worker exposed to asbestos can also contract this disease. They may well have had asbestos fibres on their working clothes and family members could have breathed them in. There are cases of wives of workers suffering from asbestosis and mesothelioma (a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body's organs. It's usually linked to asbestos exposure) after washing their husband’s work overalls. It’s also thought that workers coming home covered in asbestos on their overalls and then hugging their children or wives could have exposed them to it. This is known as secondary or shakedown exposure.

Although most asbestos diseases require substantial exposure to asbestos over a long period of time there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Or, as Dr Robin Rudd, a medical expert in asbestos cases and mesothelioma, puts it: “Mesothelioma can occur after a low level of asbestos exposure and there is no threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk.”

Asbestos-related diseases can take anywhere between 10 and 60 years to develop and then surface as a serious or terminal illness.

Nowadays, the people most at risk are those who breathe in the tiny asbestos fibres if asbestos has been disturbed which is why it MUST be left alone and, if it needs to be worked on or removed, only use a recognised, suitably trained asbestos specialist.

Asbestosis is a serious, long-term lung condition which usually develops around 20 to 30 years after people have breathed in asbestos dust.

Asbestos fibres can get lodged inside lungs, causing scarring, and thickening around air sacs, meaning it’s more difficult for oxygen to reach the blood stream.

The scarring causes lungs to shrink and harden, meaning they can’t hold as much air as they used to, and the person becomes short of breath.

Other symptoms include a persistent cough, a wheeze, fatigue, or extreme tiredness, pain the chest or shoulder and, in more advanced cases, swollen fingertips.

There is no cure for asbestosis and it’s impossible to reverse the lung damage.

But not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will go on to suffer from asbestosis. There are other conditions caused by exposure to asbestos.

Inside your chest there are two thin layers of cells called the pleura or pleural membrane. Each layer is about as thin as the skin of a balloon with the inner layer covering the lungs and the outer layer lines the inside of the rib cage.

If people have been exposed to asbestos, it’s common for areas of the pleura to become thickened. These areas are called pleural plaques.

It’s thought that around 36,000 to 90,000 people develop pleural plaques in the UK every year, but they are considered harmless and many people in the UK have them, often without even knowing about it.

Asbestos can also cause an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the pleural membrane around the lungs. Like asbestosis, symptoms of mesothelioma only develop many years - usually several decades - after being exposed to asbestos.

Process of Mesothelioma

The condition is slow to appear and then quick to progress and some of the main symptoms are breathlessness, coughing, weight loss, persistent pain in the chest or shoulder.

As mesothelioma develops it often causes fluid to build up in the chest. This is known as a pleural effusion which takes up some of the space inside the chest, in effect squashing the affected lung, restricting its ability to expand causing the suffered to feel constantly out of breath.

To organise a UKATA Asbestos Awareness Course with Aven Training contact Nigel Chilvers on 07779 982188 or email nchilvers@aventraining.com.

Published on Wednesday 9th November 2022