News - Asbestos The Silent Killer in the Middle East

In the Construction Week publication, Anthesis Consulting Group explains why the construction industry in the Middle East is at risk from Asbestos exposure.


Asbestos-related deaths are currently rising in Europe and North America as a result of historical Asbestos exposure. Unless preventative actions are immediately taken by people living and working in the Middle East, this region will face the same grave future.

Over the past five years, I have encountered various types of Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs) installed in new buildings on numerous occasions .

The sites are wide-ranging – from multi-million dollar power stations to the ‘closer to home’ office blocks, residential accommodation, and even two brand new schools. Asbestos prohibitions are present within most Middle Eastern countries, however, the reality is that a state-wide ban on ACMs is not an effective guarantee that Asbestos won’t make its way into a new construction project.

Legislation relating to the management of ACMs in the region is gradually improving, although enforcement and effective prohibitions or penalties are still lacking. Buildings which contain Asbestos that are then demolished or refurbished present a significant risk to human health. Asbestos exposure of those involved in the demolition works – as well as members of the public – is an all-too common occurrence. Occasionally, these incidents are reported in the national newspapers, more often than not they go unnoticed or unpunished.

So what are the solutions to prevent further Asbestos exposure throughout the region?

For new construction projects, it’s simply not enough to contractually exclude ACMs prior to construction. Developers, contractors and consultants must have an awareness of materials on their sites that could contain Asbestos and the common locations for ACMs. Competent persons should undertake desktop audits of construction materials prior to their arrival on site and should conduct physical inspections of on-site building materials prior to their installation.

For existing properties, property owners, facilities managers, employers, and those responsible for the maintenance of properties have a moral and, in many cases, a legal responsibility to have ACMs in their property portfolio identified, regardless of the age of the buildings.

Asbestos is known to have been contained within some 3,200 different products, so identification of Asbestos materials by a competent person followed by the implementation of an Asbestos Management Plan, or where necessary, removal, is the only way to stop unexpected Asbestos exposure.

For demolition and refurbishment, common sense dictates that ACMs should be removed prior to demolition or refurbishment. However, if the Asbestos identification and removal works are carried out poorly then the level of Asbestos spread and exposure during demolition can be almost as significant as it would be if no control measures were in place.

The competency and experience of those involved in Asbestos inspections and abatement should be checked prior to commencing Asbestos-related works. Again, through a program of careful identification and removal, Asbestos exposure to those parties affected by the demolition can be kept to the lowest level reasonably practicable.

Finally, penalties should be enacted upon those who flout the Asbestos and health and safety laws. Penalties should be deterrent enough to stop, for example, demolishing a building with Asbestos still inside and risking human health.

Penalties should include, but not be limited to: fines, suspension, removal of business licences and, ultimately, criminal convictions.

By acknowledging the presence and risk of ACMs in the Middle East’s construction industry – and then satisfactorily addressing that risk – is the only way we can we play our part in stopping unnecessary Asbestos-related deaths.