On the surface, the conditions many people work in, in the UK, are clean, healthy and regulated. A million miles away from the horrors of early industrialisation or the Victorian workhouse. But many people may, in effect, be working with asbestos without even knowing it, and putting themselves in danger. This is because, historically, it has been widely used in all sorts of building materials, alongside items as varied as mattresses and car parts.
The Pervasive Peril
“Asbestos could easily be present in any building built, or refurbished, before 2000,” explains Gemma Voaden of All Survey, Manchester-based asbestos specialists. “What people need to understand is how popular it was, as a kind of wonder material. It was lightweight and easy to work with, yet fire-resistant and strong.”
Common building materials containing asbestos include insulating board, cement, lagging for boilers and pipes, heating appliances and tiles.
“There are even sprayed asbestos coatings designed to provide fire protection for structural steel in buildings from the 1960s,” Gemma points out. “And 1970s housing has been found to contain asbestos in ducts, floors, wall linings, bath panels and ceilings.”
Asbestos becomes a problem if it releases fibres into the air, either through deterioration or damage. These fibres can be breathed in and then cause incurable and fatal lung diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
“Asbestos is very much a hidden danger. Not just because of how it has been incorporated into other, widely used materials, but also because it’s often seen as something from the past that is no longer relevant to today”
Gemma Voaden, All Survey
Who is at Danger from Asbestos?
Some people are more likely than others to come into direct contact with asbestos. Anyone involved in building or refurbishment work for instance. But there have been stories of people contracting asbestos-related lung diseases from contact with fibres found on others’ clothing.
“Essentially, it could affect anyone,” Gemma observes. “Fibres don’t make a distinction where they’re going to land, and if you’re working in an office with any sort of damaged asbestos panels, for example, then you are at risk.”
“It’s usually older products that contain asbestos,” concludes Gemma. “But how confident are you of the age of the building materials and other things you’re surrounded by? You could be working, and living, with it right now. It’s time to take action.”
Gemma and All Survey see raising awareness as a priority. This is why they are campaigning for a national asbestos register, and working to prioritise awareness of it, in general. For more information, call All Survey on 0161 628 2555 or visit their Petition page here.