When asbestos is in good condition, it poses little direct threat to the safety of members. However, if it is damaged, so that fibres can be released, the danger increases significantly.
The main aim in any situation where damage to asbestos has or might have occurred is to safeguard members' health – to prevent them coming into contact with asbestos fibres that could be breathed in.
Depending on the nature of the actual or suspected damage, different approaches may be used.
If you know that the materials contain asbestos and you also know that they have been damaged so that fibres will be released, ask management to clear the area of staff immediately; doors and windows leading to the contaminated area should be sealed, using polythene sheeting and sticky tape until the damage can be assessed and dealt with. Think about other ways that asbestos fibres could spread – such as air conditioning systems, and ensure that they are protected as well.
To determine exactly what degree of risk there is, air testing will be needed, to get a reading for asbestos fibres. All such air testing must be carried out by reputable contractors, who know how to conduct such air tests. This will include disturbing any dusts that may have settled, as this may contain the main levels of asbestos fibres.
Where it is suspected that damage to asbestos may have occurred, but it is not certain, some employers may prefer to commission the air testing before determining whether or not to clear the area – this is a more risky strategy, as it leaves people possibly exposed to loose fibres, but the precise nature of the circumstances (including how soon it is proposed to carry out the air testing) will have to be taken into account.
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