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Asbestos in the Workplace

16 June 2023

A number of Laws and Regulations have been made to ensure that workers are protected from risks related to exposure to Asbestos in the Workplace.

Asbestos is a name for a group of six naturally occurring mineral fibres. They are very strong and corrosive resistant material. However, it is now recognised that asbestos exposure can have serious health consequences.

Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the Irish construction industry up until 1999. The majority if not all of the buildings built between 1940 to 1985 contain asbestos in some form. This is the time in which asbestos production peaked.

Asbestos has been widely used in construction for a variety of purposes. It was ideal for fireproofing and insulation, but its use was wider than this.  Asbestos was used in:

  • Fireproofing
  • Thermal Insulation
  • Electrical Insulation
  • Sound Insulation
  • Decorative Planters
  • Roofing Products
  • Flooring Products
  • Heat Resistant Materials
  • Gaskets
  • Chemical resistance


Dangers of Asbestos

Exposure of workers and the occupier to asbestos in the workplace can occur during uncontrolled asbestos removal or disturbance. Asbestos is the greatest single work-related cause of death from ill health. Past exposure is now responsible for thousands of people dying from asbestos related cancers every year.  This is expected to increase because it can take 15-60 years for the disease to develop and there is no cure.

According to the HSE Asbestos Fact Sheet, it is now recognised that the short-term high level inhalation exposure to asbestos has been associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and pleural disorders. Further asbestos studies have shown that chronic inhalation is similarly detrimental to human health. The chronic exposure to asbestos is associated with asbestosis, pleural abnormalities, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

When materials containing asbestos are distributed, damaged or allowed to deteriorate, asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Asbestos fibers are potentially fatal if they are breathed in. Asbestos can also enter the human body through ingestion, though this is less common. The fibers can enter the lungs and damage them causing scars that stop the lungs working properly or even causing cancer.  According to the World Health organisation, asbestos is a proven carcinogen for which a safe air concentration cannot be established.

Anyone who disturbs asbestos containing materials, e.g., by working on them or near them, can be exposed to asbestos fibers. Those most at risk are those who carry out building maintenance and refurbishment work, e.g. electricians, joiners and heating engineers.


The Law and Asbestos in the Workplace

Duty holders need to manage the risk from asbestos in the workplace and make sure an assessment is made as to whether asbestos is, or may be present in the building. This includes where the asbestos is, or is assumed to be and what condition it is in. It should always be assumed that asbestos could be present until a full survey is done.

As with any work activity the requirements of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 (S.I. No. 10 of 2005) and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, 2007 as amended (S.I. No. 299 of 2007 & S.I. No. 732 of 2007) apply and must be considered with respect to the protection of workers at the place of work. In addition, as regards specific work activities involving working with materials containing asbestos, particular attention must be taken concerning the requirements and control measures as outlined in the relevant asbestos related legislation. Such additional regulations are the Carcinogens Regulations, the Construction Regulations and Other Regulations (such as Confined Space, Work at Heights, etc).


Asbestos Awareness

According to the HSE Asbestos Public Health Advice, asbestos is present all around us. Traces can be found in small quantities in urban and rural air samples. We are all breathing in small amounts of asbestos fibers over our lifetimes.

Whilst we cannot always risk assess the environment around us, employers are required by law to identify all hazards in the workplace. This includes asbestos in the workplace. You can read more about workplace hazards in our Workplace Hazards blog from 24 February 2023. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 (No. 10 of 2005) imposes specific duties on employers to provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to their employees to ensure their safety, health and welfare at work.

The eLearn Safety online school offers a fully online Asbestos Awareness course. The aim of this course is to provide information on the identification and the prevention of occupational illness from exposure to respirable asbestos fibres.


Online Health and Safety Training

Proactive Health and Safety training is critical to ensure a safe workplace. An effective training program can reduce the number of worker injuries and deaths. It can also reduce instances of property damage, legal liability, illnesses, and missed time from work.

Health and Safety training helps establish a culture in which employees themselves help promote proper safety procedures while on the job. It is important that new employees be properly trained and embrace the importance of workplace safety. The role of training in developing and maintaining effective hazard control activities is a proven and successful method of intervention.

This is why we have established Myelearsafety school. We pride ourselves in how we guide, support and mentor our students. They receive support throughout their learning experience and into their working lives. Our staff have extensive training experience and also have many years industry experience. We understand the challenges that exist within Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. Our priority is to ensure that all learners are fully prepared to differentiate themselves in the workplace after completing our Health and Safety courses.

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Health and Safety courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email