asbestos, first time buyer, asbestos survey, surveys

The construction industry has witnessed numerous innovations and materials over the years. Two such materials, Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) and asbestos, have been in recent headline news due to their implications on health and safety, especially in educational institutions.

Asbestos in the Maritime Industry

Asbestos was once a hugely popular material in the marine industry for its exceptional properties, including fire resistance, durability, and thermal insulation.

However, research on the health effects of exposure to asbestos means it is now recognised worldwide as a highly dangerous substance. Exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to severe health issues, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Consequently, most industrialised countries recognising these dangers, have implemented stringent regulations, management, and removal practices to protect workers and passengers from its harmful effects.

The marine industry is now prioritising the identification, management, and safe removal of asbestos containing materials to mitigate the health risks associated with this once invaluable material.

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Understanding the Presence of Asbestos Containing Materials on Ships

Asbestos was widely used in ship construction and maintenance due to its unique properties, such as heat resistance, durability, and fireproofing capabilities. However, these benefits come with significant health risks.

Poor ventilation, coupled with the constant movement of vessels on open water, including up, down, and sideways motions, results in the disturbance of asbestos fibres. This makes ship crews susceptible to inhaling or swallowing these hazardous fibres.

Common Applications of Asbestos on Ships

Asbestos was extensively used in building various parts of ships, primarily for insulation and fireproofing. The largest amount of ACMs on board ships is typically found in areas like the accommodation (living areas) and the engine room, where bulkhead, deck, and pipe insulation are present.

Asbestos can most commonly be found in the below ACMs:

  • Bulkhead and Deck Insulation: Found as blankets, panels, and sprayed insulation.
  • Wall and Ceiling Panels: Often in a sandwich-type structure.
  • Floating Floors and Floor Tiles: Commonly used to provide durability and insulation.
  • Cement, Adhesives, and Fillers: Including mastics used for sealing.
  • Pipe and Cable Penetration Packing: Ensuring tight seals in critical areas.
  • Seals, Gaskets, and Fasteners: Such as those in pipe flanges, manhole covers, and valve insulation.
  • HVAC Systems: Including textile fabric used as vibration dampeners.
  • Boiler and Steam Pipe Insulation: Essential for maintaining temperature and safety.
  • Exhaust Duct Insulation: Preventing heat transfer and fire hazards.
  • Electrical Components: Including cable materials, fuses, and friction materials for brakes.
  • Fire Blankets and Paintings: Used for fire safety and protection.

Types of Asbestos Containing Materials on Ships

Asbestos containing materials can be classified into two main categories: friable and non-friable.

Friable ACMs
– Characteristics: The fibres in friable ACMs are weakly bound, making them easy to crumble, pulverise, and reduce to powder by hand pressure when dry. 
– Health Risks: When these fibres are released into the air, they pose significant health risks if inhaled.
– Common Uses: Insulation on exhaust pipes, blanket forms on bulkheads and decks, ropes for valve insulation, and filling materials in wall and ceiling panels.

Non-Friable ACMs
– Characteristics: Non-friable ACMs have tightly bound fibres , making them more compact and less likely to release fibres under normal conditions.
– Health Risks: Although less dangerous than friable ACMs, they can still pose health risks if subjected to mechanical work such as sanding, cutting, grinding, or drilling, which can release fibres into the air.
– Common Uses: Gaskets in pipe flanges and manhole covers, floor tiles, paintings, and packing in cable and pipe penetrations.

Areas on Ships with a High-Risk of Asbestos Presence

The largest amount of ACMs on board ships is typically found in areas like the accommodation (living areas) and the engine room, where bulkhead, deck, and pipe insulation are present.

Certain areas on ships are more likely to have high levels of asbestos fibres or dust in the air, particularly in void spaces that are not regularly accessed by crew members. These areas include:

  • Backside of Partition Walls: Especially those in front of bulkheads.
  • Spaces Between Partition Walls and Ceilings: Including upper decks and floating floors.
  • Inside Escape Trunks: Often unventilated, allowing fibres to accumulate.

Ship movement and vibrations can cause the release of asbestos fibres in these areas, creating hazardous atmospheres, especially when walls, ceilings, or floors are opened for maintenance or repairs.

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Management & Removal of Asbestos on Ships

For ships built before 2002, the presence of asbestos is permitted, but these vessels must have a hazardous materials register and a management plan in place to cover any maintenance or repair work involving asbestos.

Due to the dangers associated with direct contact with ACMs, asbestos dismantling and removal should be carried out by a specialist, fully licensed contractor experienced in handling these materials.

At Fibre Safe our extensive experience in marine asbestos gives us the understanding to take the necessary precautions, and manage the safe handling of asbestos in these confined spaces, whether in port, at sea, or within shore-based buildings and support facilities, while ensuring full regulatory compliance. 

We always ensure our thorough marine asbestos surveys are tailored to the marine industry, and that a detailed marine asbestos management plan is developed and readily accessible, meeting all government health and safety compliance requirements.

MariTime Asbestos as a Growing Problem in Liverpool & Merseyside

Asbestos is already the biggest industrial killer of all time. An article written by the British Asbestos Newsletter highlights that in 1997 over 55% of all asbestos imports to the UK entered the country through Liverpool’s docks.

Yet we are still seeing illnesses caused by asbestos in Liverpool and Merseyside on the rise, largely due to the region’s extensive history in shipbuilding, dock work, and factory operations. Workers in these sectors, particularly in Liverpool and Birkenhead on the Wirral, are at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.

The Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Group (MAVSG) estimates that up to one in eight workers in the region may have been exposed to asbestos at their workplaces. Since the early 1980s, nearly 1,200 individuals in the Liverpool, Merseyside, and North West area have died due to mesothelioma.

Because asbestos-related diseases often take decades to manifest, it’s only now that those exposed to asbestos are showing symptoms of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Cammell Laird were among the many local firms working with asbestos on a regular basis between the 1950s and 1980s. In those years many were working with asbestos as part of their daily life, mixing and handling asbestos by hand, without any protective gear whatsoever. Due to the nature of asbestos related illnesses, it is only now, decades later, that the damage to their health is being diagnosed.

Phil Keary Fibre Safe working at the docks

Contact Fibre Safe Today

The presence of asbestos on ships, particularly in friable forms, poses significant health risks due to the potential release of harmful fibres into the air. Understanding where asbestos is likely to be found, and the conditions under which it can become hazardous, is crucial for maintaining safety on board. Proper handling, regular inspections, and adherence to safety protocols are essential to mitigate the risks associated with asbestos-containing materials on ships.

Contact Fibre Safe’s maritime & offshore marine asbestos surveyors and removal specialists to discuss an inspection and guide you through the full marine asbestos management process. Contact us on 0800 458 4136 or send a message here.

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