It may not be very well known that despite the prohibition of white chrysotile asbestos, introduced in 1999 by the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, it actually was not until 1st January 2005 that the legislation on the final and complete ban on all imports and use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) was enacted.
Up until this time, the building industry could still allow certain types of insulation board (AIB), cement products and surface coatings to be used in the construction of domestic and commercial properties. Throughout most of the twentieth century, asbestos awareness of the life-threatening risks of exposure to asbestos was often not made available to the workforce.
Lack of asbestos exposure prevention left a terrible legacy for the many thousands of workers, which continues to this day. Breathing in of the asbestos fibre dust, which remains permanently lodged in the linings of the lungs, eventually causes asbestosis disease and the fatal malignant and incurable cancer tumours of mesothelioma. The long gestation period of up to 50 years before the first asbestosis symptoms appear often means a survival rate of only 4 to 12 months after confirmed diagnosis.
Asbestos material, in its’ most common forms of amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos) and chrysotile (white asbestos), was widely used as an inexpensive source of durable yet flexible heat insulator and fire retardant throughout most of UK industry and manufacturing until the 1970s and 80s. Between 1935 and 1971, sprayed asbestos coatings were extensively applied in public buildings for acoustic and thermal insulation and fire protection of structural steel work.
Although now a less frequent occurrence, fire retardant and prevention materials containing asbestos, which were used in many households, offices, hospitals, schools, department stores and other buildings, can still be discovered in properties constructed or renovated up until the 1980s, or even later in some instances.
Aside from pipe lagging and linings, the most common fire prevention materials made with asbestos include wall panels, boards and fire doors (often indistinguishable from normal wooden doors). Fire dampers manufactured from asbestos were safety devices often placed within a building’s air duct system to prevent the spread of fire from one area to another.
However, fire prevention equipment could also be found in many premises and were likely to come into direct contact with people. Most typically installed were fire blankets used to extinguish both small and medium-sized fires and flames, which have spread to an individual’s clothing or skin.
Similarly, numerous industrial, engineering and manufacturing factories would contain metal mesh blankets frequently made of interwoven metal and asbestos strands, which would be draped over welders and other workers to prevent burns or injuries.
It is only when buildings are being demolished or renovated, that the hidden asbestos material will come to light. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 is designed to ensure a thorough and rigorous risk assessment is made before any work proceeds. Any asbestos found is likely to be in a highly friable ( fragile and disintegrating) state and authorised asbestos containment and disposal contractors must be contacted immediately.