What should you do if you suspect that asbestos has been disturbed?
Your first response should be to stop the disturbance and isolate the location. In many cases isolation will be straightforward and the room or area can simply be locked. If the space is occupied, tell employees to calmly leave the area and not to take anything with them. If the disturbance is in a large open-plan floor, it would be reasonable to cordon off the affected area, for instance if a hole has been drilled into an asbestos containing material then a 20m exclusion zone may be enough, however if there has been a more significant disturbance then an exclusion zone of 50m to 100m may be necessary. Don’t forget to also check if anyone has already been in the area, then gone through to another area e.g. contractors taking breaks before the alarm was sounded. In some cases the building will need to be evacuated.
One of the most important first responses to a small asbestos disturbance is to reassure everyone involved. We are all exposed to asbestos, due to its widespread use in the UK, and an incidence of extra exposure still only leaves us with a very low risk of developing mesothelioma. There is no point in anyone affected seeing a doctor as there will be no clinical evidence of exposure. The incident however should be recorded on any affected employee’s health record or personal record.
For information about asbestos management see the HSE website http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/protect.htm