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What do workers need to know about asbestos?

Examples of workers who are likely to encounter asbestos include:

  • tradespeople, such as carpenters, builders, electricians, plumbers, painters and decorators 
  • facilities managers and workers
  • cleaners
  • emergency service workers
  • power plant workers
  • boiler and heating engineers
  • chimney sweepers 
  • teachers and teaching assistants.

Workers should know what is required of them if they could potentially encounter asbestos, especially if they are likely to be working on buildings at potential risk. However, before work is carried out, workers need to check the asbestos register and asbestos management plan to see if the asbestos has been removed. As plans are not always accurate, workers should take care and be aware that asbestos could still be found. This could be due to a building being built before the year 2000 in the United Kingdom, for example.  

Workers who could potentially encounter asbestos should be trained in their specialist field. This is so they are aware of what it looks like and what they should do if they either think or know the material they have found or been in contact with is, or could be, asbestos.  

If workers do encounter asbestos, they should follow rules such as: 

  • stop work immediately
  • ensure no one enters the area
  • close, seal or lock off and place barriers around the area and use warning signs
  • report it to the manager or supervisor and the organisation
  • call for specialist contractors to remove the asbestos or clean up the area
  • change their clothing and put it in a bag to be disposed of as hazardous waste if asbestos has been disturbed.

Workers should not try and clean the area themselves unless they have had specific training and are competent to do so. The removal and clean-up of any asbestos should only be carried out by asbestos removal contractors or those with specific training.  

If a worker has encountered asbestos, either in the past or recently, it’s important they are aware of signs or symptoms of having an asbestos-related illness. 

 Signs and symptoms can include: 

  • persistent cough
  • breathlessness 
  • coughing up phlegm with traces of blood
  • aches or pain in the chest or shoulders 
  • loss of appetite or unexpected weight loss 
  • swelling of the neck or face
  • persistent tiredness.

If workers are not sure or are concerned, they should talk to their manager or supervisor before carrying out any works.  

Consideration needs to be given to workers such as teachers or teaching assistants, who may still be working in buildings containing asbestos. They should be made aware if they are working in areas where asbestos is likely to be present. This is to prevent them from damaging it and releasing the fibres.