Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was widely used in buildings and appliances up to the year 2000. Asbestos-related diseases kill more people than any other single work-related cause.
Breathing air containing asbestos dust can cause cancer and many other diseases of the lungs and chest. But its lethal effects may not show up for years or even decades.
Although using asbestos in new buildings and appliances has been banned since 2000, any building built before then could contain asbestos.
Disrupting or stripping out asbestos is very high risk. So, if you work in construction, building maintenance or repair, you’re most likely to be exposed. Many of today’s victims previously worked in the building trades.
In those industries, employers working with asbestos must have a license, do a risk assessment before work is carried out, develop a plan to minimise exposure and provide you with full training and information.
If this has not been done and you suspect asbestos may be present in any material, you should stop the job immediately.
If you have any concerns about working with asbestos, you can approach your site safety rep, your union or an asbestos campaign or support group. You can also find useful advice and information on the Asbestos pages of the Health and Safety Executive website.
Are you a rep? You can find more practical advice on a range of workplace issues in our support for reps section