What are the Dangers of Working Around Asbestos?

Guides Health & Safety

16th September 2019 | Info

As tree surgeons, on occasion, we may stumble across asbestos, and it is essential that arborists are familiar with the substance and know what to do if the situation arises.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a heat resistant, fibrous material composing of six minerals that was previously used for insulation pre-2000s.  

Asbestos kills thousands of workmen and women each year and on average and each week alone, 20 people die from previous exposure. 

How is it Dangerous?

Asbestos, if left alone, does no harm, however, once disturbed, small fibres are released and can make their way into your lungs. The effects are not immediate but can cause severe diseases as a result. It can cause:

  • Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. 
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer.
  • Asbestosis – severe scarring of the lung.
  • Pleural thickening – thickening of the lining of the lungs.

Those that smoke and are/have been exposed to asbestos are more at risk of developing these diseases.

Where can it be found?

Asbestos is often hidden in materials both internally and externally in a building. These hidden materials can include:

  • Sprayed coatings on walls
  • Asbestos insulation boards 
  • Asbestos cement
  • Lagging
  • Roofing felt.

…. to name a few.


  • Control of Asbestos Regulations [2012]. This legislation contains rules and regulations that help to control asbestos and puts in place requirements and outlines training that is required for employees and managers that are likely to come into contact with asbestos. 
  • Training comes under regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. 
  • You can view the legislation here
  • Approved Codes of Practice. – L127; this covers the management of asbestos in non-domestic premises and L143; this covers working with materials that contain asbestos.

What training should my employees get?

Employers are responsible for ensuring that both themselves and their employees are aware of asbestos, the dangers that come along with it, and that they have all the necessary information, instruction and training to prepare them for if/when they come across it, and so that they can work safely. This includes making employees aware of what asbestos is, the dangers of it, how it can be found and procedures that should be taken if asbestos fibres are released.

They type of training that your employees should depend on the type of work that they carry out. As tree surgeons, awareness training is required and in some cases, Non-licensable work training. 

One of the most approved and effective ways of training is online-learning; however, many courses are available. This training is meant to help you, and your workers avoid working with asbestos. It isn’t a legal requirement to have consistent refreshers on how to deal with/prevent exposure to asbestos, but it is encouraged to recap roughly every 12 months.

Preventing exposure to asbestos and what to do if you discover it

Before you attend a job, you should identify if, and where there is asbestos. If asbestos is noted to be on-site, then you should carry out a risk assessment to highlight whether you or any of your workers could be at risk of exposure and the type and condition of it (the asbestos). If there is a risk, then you should decide if it’s possible to carry out your outlined job, avoiding the risk of asbestos exposure altogether and if that’s not possible then you need to identify who might be at risk and the level of exposure someone may have. Depending on this, you will need to decide as to whether or not you can carry out your job, or if professionals to remove the asbestos are required before you can carry out the job. 

If you do carry out work where asbestos is present on-site or near your work area, then you must ensure that you:

  • Do not eat and drink near the exposed area
  • Make sure to wash your hands/body after breaks and before going home
  • Use protective equipment, such as a suitable face mask that is worn correctly. 
  • Do not bring home any clothes worn as these could carry fibres.

If you (an employee or an employer) attend a job and are unaware that there is asbestos on the property near where your work area is going to be and, on attendance of the job you realise that asbestos may be present you must immediately:

  • Stop.
  • Speak to your employer and/or the building owner if you are suspicious.
  • Decide as to whether you can carry out your work or not.

If you become contaminated with asbestos:

  1. Take first aid measures. You should leave the immediate area near the exposure and take off contaminated clothing. Make sure not to brush the clothing as there may be dangerous fibres on there.
  2. After you have taken these first aid measures, you must make sure to vacate the premises and secure the area. Anyone on-site, including any occupants, must leave the space.
  3. Contact the appropriate handlers of asbestos, provide the address of the exposure and state what actions you have taken so far.

If you are exposed to asbestos and have inhaled fibres, don’t panic. A majority of people do not develop severe or life-threatening lung disease as a result of exposure to asbestos. Symptoms take a while to kick in. If you start to experience chest pain, shortness of breath or start coughing heavily, then you should seek medical advice.

Risk Assessments

Risk assessments should be carried out for each job, and it is important to add an area for asbestos. In your risk assessment you should include information such as the likelihood of exposure to asbestos, and if asbestos is present, an explanation of the appropriate control measures, protective equipment and work methods that could be implemented. Additionally, you should also outline waste handling procedures, emergency procedures and the relevant legal requirements.

Final Thoughts

Asbestos is an extremely dangerous material, however, if untouched it proposes less risk. The more aware people are of the material, then the more we can prevent and minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos, and prepare ourselves should we come across it. 

Additionally, for more information regarding finding financial and legal support if you have received a mesothelioma diagnosis, be sure to visit https://www.mesotheliomalawyercenter.org/.

Sources: https://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/, https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/what-is-asbestos, https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/.


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