Another unexpected reminder of the ever present dangers of asbestos in our everyday environment comes with the recent news that a branch of Tesco supermarket at Carlisle city centre will be closed for eight weeks from September to November for the removal of asbestos and subsequent refurbishment.

It is quite commonplace for reports of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) to be found during renovation or demolition works of both public and commercial premises, the most frequent categories being housing estates, factory premises, storage depots and department stores. Where asbestos awareness is always a particularly sensitive issue is when ACMs are present in locations such as hospitals, schools, colleges, libraries and other public service buildings.

The asbestos, which was found in the Carlisle Tesco, was built in the 1970s, and was from a period when the building industry routinely used ACMs as standard insulation in construction before the first asbestos ban was introduced in 1985, although the practice did continue for several more years.

Strict adherence to safety regulations by the closing of the store and the procedures undertaken to deal with the surveying, management and disposal of the deadly materials means that there is no risk to employees or members of the public, whatsoever.

Any exposure to asbestos, even ‘low-risk’ white asbestos, and the inhaling of fibre dust can almost invariably, lead to asbestosis disease or the fatal and incurable malignant mesothelioma cancer. The unusually long gestation period of up to 50 years means that the first asbestosis symptoms will only appear when the disease is at a very advanced stage and life expectancy is poor.

Procedures for asbestos surveys are not always followed in the same way as in the Tesco store example. Cases are not infrequently brought to court where pre works management surveys of buildings to search for asbestos are either not undertaken nor completed to meet the statutory requirements of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 / 2012.

The most recent example of an incomplete survey took place at a hospital in Kettering where a management survey did identify asbestos sprayed insulation coating on the underside of the ceilings (which did not need to be removed by licensed contractors). However, the survey failed to identify more than 200 square metres of asbestos insulations board (AIB) present above the ceiling level (which would be required to be removed).

As a result, work proceeded on the ceilings without the workman being made aware of the remaining substantial presence of asbestos, nor were they wearing the correct type of face masks or protective clothing. Not only was asbestos dust released into the immediate area, putting the workmen at risk, but the debris was then swept into a pile and left on the floor. In addition, the workmen had not been trained to either recognise or deal with asbestos or any form of ACMs.

As a result, both the building contractors and insulation consultants pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at Northampton Magistrates’ Court and fined a total of £ 14,322 including costs.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed each year.