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3M Warns Of The Health Effects Of Asbestos 

Diversified technology company 3M has highlighted the legal responsibilities of construction and building maintenance companies to ensure their workers are adequately protected in environments where asbestos is present, following a number of recent high-profile cases.

One instance saw a 76-year-old former rail industry worker receive £120,000 compensation following long-term exposure to asbestos fibres which led to him developing mesothelioma, while working as a welder at the workshops in Derby.

Asbestos is hazardous to health when its airborne fibres are inhaled. It is then that the fine fibres may settle in the lungs, which can lead to fatal respiratory disease and cancers.

The main health effects of exposure are asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung) and lung cancer.

Figures published by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) state that 20 general tradespeople - builders, plumbers and electricians who have been involved in non-licenced work - die each week as a result of asbestos exposure, and that it is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths each year. The number of deaths of this type is expected to peak between 2011 and 20151.

Asbestos is found in many buildings constructed and refurbished during the twentieth century. It was used for spray coating on steel and concrete, insulation in buildings and boilers, ceiling tiles, cement products, downpipes and gutters and within corrugated or flat sheeting used for walls and roofs.

Katya Chausheva of 3M explained: “Tradespeople can be exposed to asbestos daily. It represents a significant hazard within the workplace and adequate protection must be provided in any work environment where it may be present. Selection of personal protective equipment must be suitable for both the wearer and the work undertaken.”

Before work commences, Health and Safety Managers should carry out a risk assessment to identify the location of any asbestos. Non-licensed work is typically carried out using a disposable or reusable half-mask with an assigned protection value of at least 20, a type 5 disposable coverall with a hood, and boots without laces. The HSE publication, HSG210, contains task sheets giving guidance around non-licensed work with asbestos.

Email: ohesuk@mmm.com


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