For many years, asbestos was a commonly used building material due to its strength and heat-resistance. However, we now know it poses a threat to human health, and is responsible for around 5,000 deaths each year.
Asbestos wasn’t banned until 1999, meaning there are thousands of buildings across the UK which contain the material, including many GP surgeries. It is vital that GP practice managers understand the dangers of asbestos and what they must do to protect their staff and patients from exposure.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material and there are three different types: Amosite (brown), Crocidolite (blue) and Chrysotile (white). Before it was banned, asbestos was used as an insulation and fire-proofing material.
Why is asbestos so dangerous?
Exposure to asbestos fibres can cause the development of various lung-related diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Patients or staff members who are exposed won’t feel any negative effects immediately, as these illnesses take many years to develop. Mesothelioma, a form of cancer, is particularly deadly, as there is currently no cure.
Where is asbestos usually found?
There are several places asbestos could be hiding in – the most common spots are:
- Floor tiles
- Pipe insulation
- Ceiling tiles
- Sprayed coatings
- Fire protection boards
Remember: asbestos cannot cause harm unless it is disturbed, as it’s the fibres which are deadly when inhaled. This is why it is important to assess how much risk there is to employees and patients before coming up with a management plan.
Some parts of the building are more likely to become damaged or broken, which will therefore lead to asbestos exposure. For example, if an asbestos ceiling tile is cracked, it could cause significant problems.
Asbestos in GP Surgeries – who’s responsible?
In most cases, the GP practice manager is responsible for the building and is therefore the ‘dutyholder’. According to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the dutyholder must protect anyone working in the premises from asbestos. They have a duty to take ‘reasonable steps’ to check whether asbestos is in the building which an ASI Environmental asbestos survey will show.
If asbestos is present, the dutyholder must find out how much of it exists and what condition it’s in. These assessments should be carried out by a specialist like ASI Environmental, who will establish whether asbestos is present and will develop a management plan with you.
To find out more about the different types of surveys we offer, click here.
Asbestos Exposure – who’s at risk?
The risk to surgery employees and patients is relatively small, considering the asbestos needs to be disturbed to cause harm. However, once you know where asbestos is present, you can take further steps to ensure any possible exposure is prevented.
Contractors, such as repair and maintenance workers, are most at risk of exposure, as they are more likely to accidentally disturb any hidden fibres.
What happens if the regulations aren’t followed?
If you do not take reasonable steps to ensure your employees, contractors and patients are protected from asbestos exposure, and your surgery is found to be responsible for causing a related illness or death, you will be prosecuted. This means you could face fines and/or manslaughter charges. The surgery could be closed down too.
ASI Environmental are a nationwide UKAS accredited Asbestos surveying company carrying out asbestos testing and surveys in all sorts of premises, including GP surgeries. For more information, check out our guide to asbestos or call us for free on 0800 0141 858 – we’re happy to help!