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Guidance

Asbestos Hazard Guidance

Contents

Introduction

Why is asbestos dangerous?

How can accidental damage or disturbance of asbestos occur?

What should I do if I suspect an item to be asbestos containing material?

Is the presence of asbestos containing materials in a building a danger to my health?

Where is asbestos found in buildings?

How can I dispose of asbestos containing materials?

Where can I get more advice?

Guidance Documents

Introduction

The University, through its Estates Unit, complies with the requirements of legislation governing the control of asbestos contained in premises. The Estates Unit will ensure that an 'Asbestos Register' is produced and maintained. This Register will be available for inspection upon appointment at Estates.

The purpose of this document is to advise University staff on the potential health hazards presented by exposure to asbestos fibres from asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and the actions which should be taken to prevent or minimise such exposure.

It is aimed principally at anyone involved in building maintenance, repair or refurbishment work e.g. plumbers, joiners and electricians. It is also aimed at other workers such as computer installers, cabling installers and other persons who may also disturb ACMs during their work.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining.

Asbestos is only a risk to health if asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Asbestos-related diseases currently kill up to 3000 people a year in Great Britain. This number is expected to go on rising for the next ten years. There is no cure for asbestos-related diseases. There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease. This can vary from 15 to 60 years. Only by preventing or minimising these exposures now will asbestos-related disease eventually be wiped out.

There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises. These are commonly called 'blue asbestos' (crocidolite), 'brown asbestos' (amosite) and 'white asbestos' (chrysotile). All of them are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos are more hazardous than white. You cannot identify them just by their colour.

Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many thousands of tons of it were used in the past and much of it is still in place. As long as it is in good condition the risk to personnel is low. If the asbestos is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people can breathe them in.

How can accidental damage or disturbance of asbestos occur?

Although refurbishment, repair and maintenance work create the most obvious risks of damage, virtually any task that involves work on the fabric of the building can potentially lead to disturbance of asbestos containing materials. In particular, whenever any drilling, sawing, cutting or breaking-up of unknown materials is to be carried out care should be taken to ensure that these do not contain asbestos.

Some examples of other work, which can cause disturbance of asbestos containing materials include installation of computer and telephone cables, fire alarms, light fittings, window blinds, shelving and maintenance and repair of certain older types of electrical equipment etc. Careless movement of goods and equipment can also cause physical damage to building materials with an asbestos content.

What should I do if I suspect an item to be asbestos containing material?

If you are in any doubt about whether an item or any particular part of building fabric contains asbestos seek advice from Estates as a matter of urgency.

NOTE: Do not attempt to take a sample.

Is the presence of asbestos containing materials in a building a danger to my health?

It is important to remember that the risks from asbestos arise through inhaling airborne fibres. If fibres are not released from the material there is no risk to health. Asbestos containing materials that are in good condition and not damaged, or disturbed, are unlikely to release fibres.

Risks to health can arise where these conditions are not met. Examples of this would typically be in circumstances where the material is in poor condition, has become damaged or is being worked on. Although very minor damage is not likely to cause a significant exposure to asbestos fibres, uncontrolled large scale damage can pose a significant risk, particularly where individuals suffer this type of exposure regularly.

NOTE: ANY damage to asbestos containing materials, even minor, must be reported immediately to Estates so that, if necessary, repairs can be arranged.

Where is asbestos found in buildings?

Some asbestos containing materials are more vulnerable to damage and more likely to give off fibres than others. In general, the materials that contain a high percentage of asbestos are more easily damaged. The list below is roughly in order of ease of fibre release (with the highest potential fibre release first). Sprayed coatings, lagging and insulating board are more likely to contain blue or brown asbestos. Asbestos insulation and lagging can contain up to 85% asbestos and is most likely to give off fibres. Work with asbestos insulating board can result in equally high fibre release if power tools are used. On the other hand, asbestos cement contains only 10 - 15% asbestos. The asbestos is tightly bound into the cement and the material will only give off fibres if it is badly damaged or broken.

You are most likely to come across asbestos in these materials:

  • sprayed asbestos and asbestos loose packing - generally used as fire breaks in ceiling voids;
  • moulded or preformed lagging - generally used in thermal insulation of pipes and boilers;
  • sprayed asbestos - generally used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steel work;
  • insulating boards used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts;
  • some ceiling tiles;
  • millboard, paper and paper products used for insulation of electrical equipment. Asbestos paper has also been used as a fire-proof facing on wood fibre-board;
  • asbestos cement products, which can be fully or semi-compressed into flat or corrugated sheets. Corrugated sheets are largely used as roofing and wall cladding. Other asbestos cement products include gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks;
  • certain textured coatings, including ARTEX products;
  • bitumen roofing materials;
  • vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles

How can I dispose of asbestos containing materials?

It is not expected that Schools/Units will have much need to dispose of asbestos, since this work will be undertaken by specialist contractors. However, occasionally there may be a need to dispose of asbestos containing equipment. This can usually be arranged via Estates. Materials awaiting disposal should be double bagged within plastic sacks, labelled to indicate their content and stored securely until they can be uplifted.

Where can I get more advice?

If you need more information on any aspect of this guidance or on work with asbestos please contact the University Safety Adviser (Tel. Ext.: 2751).

Guidance Documents

Asbestos Alert : Workers' Card for Building Maintenance, Repair and Refurbishment Workers INDG.188P 1995, HSE Books.

Contact

Environmental Health and Safety Services contact details

University of St Andrews
Bute Building Queens Terrace
St Andrews
Fife
KY16 9TS
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462750
Fax:44 (0)1334 462747