026 RCIMAG.COM MAY 2018
No Time To Lose
Once marketed as a “magic mineral,” asbestos is now an infamous public health
menace. Gary Walpole, technical offi cer at the National Federation of Roofi ng
Contractors (NFRC), explains why it is backing the Institution of Occupational Safety and
Health’s ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign
According to the Institution of
Occupational Safety and Health
(IOSH), 742,000 people die from
work-related cancers worldwide every
year. Of these deaths, more than
100,000 are caused by exposure to asbestos, with
the UK accounting for around 5,000.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says
that any building constructed or refurbished
before the year 2000 may contain asbestos,
which means that roofi ng contractors carrying
out refurbishments are likely to come into
contact with asbestos at some point.
Yet despite being on the front line, a recent
IOSH survey of 500 construction workers found
that a third had never checked the asbestos
register before starting work, and one in fi ve
said they would not know what to do if they
Dr Lesley Rushton, chair of the UK’s
Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, said the
uncertainty surrounding how to prevent workers
from breathing in asbestos fi bres was “deeply
worrying”. And this is why IOSH has launched
an asbestos awareness campaign as part of
its wider ‘No Time to Lose’ drive to explain
the causes of occupational cancer and help
businesses take action.
Und erstanding the risks
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fi brous
silicate mineral. The three types of asbestos
which have been used in the UK are: crocidolite
(blue asbestos); amosite (brown asbestos) and
chrysotile (white asbestos).
When asbestos-containing materials
deteriorate, they can release fi bres into the
air, but the greater risk to health arises when
asbestos is damaged or if the material is drilled,
sawn, scrubbed or sanded.
The shape and size of the fi bres enables them
to penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can
cause lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and
pleural plaques, but it can take up to 40 years to
fully develop these asbestos-related lung diseases.
Being able to understand symptoms early
on will help treatment. Asbestos was banned in
the UK in 1999, but can be found in a range of
products manufactured before that date. These
include bitumen felts, mastics, sealants, putties
and adhesives, fl oor tiles and gaskets, spray
coatings and lagging.
Asbestos can also be present in insulating
boards, yarns, millboard and papers, fi bre
cement and textured coatings and paints. This
means that the people who are most at risk
from asbestos now are contractors who disturb
it while carrying out repairs, alterations, or
demolition of buildings.
Warning signs to look out for include:
• A persistent cough
• A longstanding cough that gets worse
• Coughing up phlegm with traces of blood
• An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
• Loss of appetite or weight loss
The IOSH ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign is
focused on preventative measures to keep
employees as well as members of the public safe.
It advises that before carrying out work, an
employer should have an asbestos management
plan detailing how asbestos will be managed if
found. A key component of this should be the
asbestos risk register, which includes current
information about the presence and condition of
asbestos in the building and is often based on an
Contractors should be given training about
how to work safely around materials containing
asbestos and should never be asked to work in
an area that might disturb the asbestos.
Asbestos removal and cleaning up dust should
only be carried out by specialist contractors. If
you think you have uncovered asbestos on a site
and it releases dust you should:
1. Stop work immediately
2. Evacuate everyone from the area and prevent
others from entering
3. Do not remove equipment or materials
4. Close, seal or lock off the area
5. Put up warning signs
6. Report it to your employer.
No time to lose
Commenting on its survey, Craig Foyle,
president of IOSH, said it was unacceptable
for anyone in any workplace to be exposed to
asbestos, and that unless we all do something
about it, people and their families could be
suffering in decades to come.
“As a trade association representing
contractors who are likely to come into contact
with asbestos, the NFRC wholeheartedly agrees
with IOSH,” said Gary. “If the recent survey
of workers revealed anything, it was that there
is still not enough understanding of even the
basics, such as where asbestos can be found,
what to do if you disturb it or early warning
signs of exposure to it. This is why the IOSH
campaign is so important and why the NFRC is
If roofi ng contractors have any concerns,
they can contact the NFRC helpdesk on
020 7638 7663. They can also visit www.
notimetolose.org.uk and the HSE website www.
hse.gov.uk/asbestos/managing/. The HSE has
also developed an app called Beware Asbestos,
offering practical advice to contractors.
Asbestos Removal Contractors Removal Association