The use of asbestos in ship construction has been banned internationally, but cases of its use are still being discovered in non-approved parts such as gaskets and brake linings.
Caution should be exercised when obtaining spare parts, because some components may contain asbestos even when declared ‘asbestos free’. Measures to protect seafarers’ health where there is a risk of exposure to asbestos are in the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) (Asbestos) Regulations 2010 and associated marine guidance.
All types of asbestos have a fibrous structure and can produce harmful dust if the surface exposed to the air is damaged or disturbed. The danger is not immediately obvious because the fibres that can damage the lungs and cause lung cancer are too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Asbestos that is in good condition is unlikely to release fibres, but where the material is damaged or deteriorating, or work is undertaken on it, airborne fibres can be released. Dry asbestos is much more likely to produce dust than asbestos that is thoroughly wet or oil-soaked.
Asbestos is particularly likely to occur on older vessels in insulation and panelling, but certain asbestos compounds may also be found elsewhere and on other vessels in machinery components such as gaskets and brake linings.
The Company should advise masters of any location where asbestos is known or believed to be present on their ship. Masters and/or safety officers should keep a written record of this information and should also note any other position where asbestos is suspected, but they should not probe or disturb any suspect substance. Crew members who work regularly near asbestos or a substance likely to contain it should be warned of the need for caution and should report any deterioration in its condition such as cracking or flaking.