29th February 2020

The danger of asbestos in the construction industry

Construction Site Safety

Asbestos, which causes asbestosis, still kills roughly 5000 workers each year. That is double the amount of people that are killed from road traffic accidents. When it comes to health and safety in the construction industry, asbestos is a critical topic that you need to know about.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a term used for a group of minerals which are made of natural microscopic fibres. These fibres are soft and flexible but are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. Whilst these attributes make asbestos useful, they also make exposure to asbestos highly toxic.

Asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building that was built or refurbished before the year 2000.

Asbestos was fully banned in the UK in 1999, making it illegal to manufacture and supply asbestos products in the UK. People were becoming ill and dying from asbestos exposure. As useful as asbestos fibres are for the construction industry, they are deadly for the human body.

Exposure to asbestos within the construction industry

Before the risks to workers health became apparent, the construction industry relied heavily on products that contained asbestos. Thousands of workers handled asbestos-related products every day.

The danger comes when materials containing asbestos are damaged, such as when cutting a concrete block. The dust that is let off can contain asbestos fibres which when inhaled damage the lungs.

The versatility of asbestos meant it could be found in dozens of construction materials.

Examples of construction products made with asbestos include:

• Thermal insulation
• Cement
• Drywall compounds
• Plastics
• Paints
• Pipes
• Roofing tiles
• Sealants and adhesives

Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases take many years, even decades in some cases to appear. Workers exposed to large amounts of asbestos or who were exposed over a long period of time are most at risk.


Asbestosis is a non-cancerous lung disease which develops when asbestos fibres become embedded in your lungs, leading to the formation of scar tissue. This is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres, usually over many years. The scarring prevents your lungs from expanding and contracting normally which can cause difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms of asbestosis include:

• Tightness in your chest
• Persistent dry coughing
• Chest pain
• Appetite loss
• Extreme tiredness

Can asbestosis be cured?

Unfortunately, asbestosis cannot be cured once it has developed, the damage to the lungs is irreversible. There are however a few treatments which can help control symptoms.

Prescription inhalers can be issued to help loosen up congestion in your lungs. In cases of severe breathing difficulty, supplemental oxygen from a mask can help.

Avoiding further exposure to asbestos and quitting smoking can prevent the disease from getting any worse.

Been exposed to asbestos? Here’s what you can do

If you have been dealing with asbestos exposure for more than ten years it is advised you get a chest x-ray and screening every 3-5 years. If you continue to be exposed to asbestos, then make sure you use all PPE equipment that is necessary at work and ensure you follow the correct safety procedures.

Asbestos is a topic covered within our CITB Site Safety Plus courses. Alternatively, for more information, you can speak to one of our team on 01773 304060 or email training@van-elle.co.uk.