Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral once used for various purposes due to its unique properties. It is composed of thin, microscopic fibres resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, which made it a popular choice for insulation and construction materials. Exposure to these microscopic fibres can cause severe health and safety complications.
It is essential for those removing asbestos to have the right knowledge, skills and training since it is an extremely hazardous process and cannot be attempted by uncertified individuals. This blog discusses safe removal practices and who exactly is qualified to undertake such work.
Dangers of Asbestos
Exposure to asbestos fibres is a serious health risk. When asbestos fibres are released into the air and inhaled or ingested, they can become lodged in the body. This can lead to various asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. This threat led to a UK-wide ban on asbestos in 1999 but it can still be regularly found in buildings, making removal necessary in some situations.
How to Prevent Exposure
- Identification and management of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) is essential
- Avoid disturbing asbestos-containing materials. If you’re unsure, assume asbestos is present and enlist the help of a professional to check.
- Asbestos awareness training must be given to any worker at risk of exposure. This level of training does not qualify the participant to work with or remove asbestos but it does cover how to limit exposure risks and keep safe around asbestos
- Proper work practices, like wetting asbestos to prevent fibre release, are necessary during removal
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protection must be worn when handling asbestos
Common Sources of Asbestos in Homes
Asbestos-containing materials were widely used in construction before the health risks were fully understood. Therefore, many older homes may still contain asbestos in various forms. Common sources of asbestos in homes include:
- Insulation: Asbestos was widely used in insulation materials, such as pipe and attic insulation.
- Flooring: Some vinyl floor tiles and the adhesive used to install them may contain asbestos.
- Roofing: Asbestos cement roofing shingles and siding were once popular.
- Textured Paints and Coatings: Older textured paints, patching compounds, and popcorn ceilings may contain asbestos.
- HVAC Duct Insulation: Asbestos was used to insulate heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts.
- Appliances: Asbestos was sometimes used as an insulating material in older appliances like stoves and dishwashers.
Can You Remove Asbestos Yourself?
Legal Regulations and Requirements
In the United Kingdom, asbestos removal is subject to strict regulations to protect public health and safety. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is the primary legislation governing asbestos removal. Some fundamental rules and requirements include:
Training and Certification: Individuals involved in asbestos removal must undergo specific training and certification to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to handle asbestos safely.
Notification: Removal works require either the relevant Local Authority or HSE to be notified at least 14 days before starting work.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Workers must wear appropriate PPE, including respirators and protective clothing when working with asbestos.
- Waste Disposal: Asbestos waste must be carefully packaged, labelled, and disposed of at waste sites authorised to handle asbestos.
- Air Monitoring: Air monitoring is often required during asbestos removal to ensure that asbestos fibres are not released into the environment.
- Documentation: Detailed records of asbestos removal activities must be maintained for inspection by regulatory authorities.
The DIY Approach: Is It Advisable?
Homeowners or untrained individuals cannot attempt DIY asbestos removal. Here’s why:
- Health Risks: Asbestos fibres can become airborne during removal, posing a severe health risk if inhaled. Professionals are trained to minimise this risk.
- Lack of Training: DIY enthusiasts need training and experience to handle asbestos safely. DIY removal increases the risk of exposure. Inexperienced individuals may also remove only some asbestos-containing materials, leaving hazards behind.
- Legal Requirements: In the UK, specific regulations apply to asbestos removal, and failure to comply can result in legal consequences.
- Improper Removal: DIY removal can lead to the unintentional spread of asbestos fibres, contaminating the home further and putting occupants at greater risk. Inadvertently spreading asbestos will also make it more challenging and expensive to rectify.
Professional Asbestos Removal
Why Hire a Professional Asbestos Removal Service?
Hiring a professional asbestos removal service is essential for several reasons:
- Safety: Professional contractors are trained and equipped to handle asbestos, minimising exposure to harmful asbestos fibres.
- Legal Compliance: Professionals are well-versed in asbestos removal regulations and requirements. They ensure that all work is conducted in compliance with laws and regulations.
- Proper Equipment: Asbestos removal requires specialised equipment, such as respirators, protective clothing, and HEPA filtration systems, which professionals have readily available.
- Efficiency: Professionals are experienced and efficient in identifying and removing asbestos-containing materials, ensuring thorough and effective removal.
- Waste Disposal: Proper disposal of asbestos waste is crucial. Professionals have access to approved disposal facilities and know how to handle waste according to regulations.
Steps Involved in Professional Asbestos Removal
Professional asbestos removal typically involves the following steps:
- Site Assessment: The asbestos removal professional assesses the site to identify asbestos-containing materials and determine the scope of work.
- Containment: The work area is sealed off using plastic sheeting and negative air pressure to prevent the release of asbestos fibres.
- Removal: Trained professionals carefully remove asbestos-containing materials, using appropriate techniques and tools to minimise fibre release.
- Cleaning and Decontamination: The work area is thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated to ensure no asbestos fibres remain.
- Air Monitoring: Air samples may be collected during and after removal to verify that the air is asbestos-free.
- Waste Disposal: Asbestos waste is sealed in double bags, labelled, and transported to authorised disposal sites.
- Final Inspection: A final inspection ensures that all asbestos-containing materials have been safely removed and that the area is free from contamination.
The cost of professional asbestos removal can vary widely depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the project, the type of asbestos-containing materials, and the location. Some cost considerations include:
- Extent of Contamination: The cost of removing asbestos increases as contamination becomes greater.
- Type of Asbestos: Different types of asbestos (brittle vs. non-friable) may require different removal methods, affecting costs.
- Location: Urban areas may have higher labour and disposal costs than rural areas.
- Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with local regulations may add to the cost, but it’s crucial for legal and safety reasons.
- Contractor Experience: More experienced contractors may charge higher fees but offer better expertise.
Finding a Qualified Asbestos Removal Contractor
When seeking a qualified asbestos removal contractor:
- Check for proper licence and certifications
- Verify their experience and reputation
- Ask for references and check online reviews
- Obtain multiple quotes for comparison
- Ensure they provide detailed project plans and cost breakdowns
Asbestos is a hazardous material that poses significant health risks when not handled properly. Whether you’re considering removing asbestos from your property or dealing with its presence, it’s essential to be well-informed and prioritise safety.
Your health and safety should be the top priority when dealing with asbestos. Making an informed decision about asbestos removal involves understanding the risks, legal requirements, and advantages of hiring professionals. Prioritising safety and compliance is essential to protect yourself, your family, and your property from the dangers of asbestos exposure.