The issue of asbestos awareness and the continuing failure by some property owners or building firms to implement the required procedures and controls can be due to a lack of knowledge, training or simply ignoring the rules to minimise time and expense.
Each year, the UKAS Accredited Asbestos Campaign carries out an industry wide survey, which is designed to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of asbestos awareness levels among a variety of businesses and organisation categories.
The results for the Great British Asbestos in Buildings Survey 2011 have recently been published. Among the report’s numerous findings it is revealed that despite widespread confirmation of many individuals coming into contact with and disturbing asbestos during their daily activities, there are still significant gaps in knowledge of responsibilities, and provision of information and training.
Use of white asbestos was only finally banned at the end of the 1990s and all properties renovated or built up until that time must always be suspected of still containing quantities of asbestos fibres used in products such as wallboard, cement roofing tiles and textured spray coatings as insulation and a fire retardant.
Asbestos can often be uncovered in a fragile state of wear and any attempt to handle can release the deadly fibres. Once breathed in, they lodge within the lung linings, causing inflammation, and can eventually lead to asbestosis disease or the fatal incurable cancer, mesothelioma.
A long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years means that the first asbestosis symptoms often only appear at a late stage in the spread of the disease and typical survival rates from confirmed diagnosis can be less than 6 months.
Under Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, updated in April 2102, it is the duty of an employer to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment for asbestos prior to any works which will or is liable to expose employees to asbestos. There is an additional obligation to inform any person liable to disturb asbestos containing materials (ACMs) of its presence and condition.
The survey results show that while over a third of contractors state they know they have disturbed asbestos during their on-site work, a quarter are unaware they have come into direct contact with the deadly mineral. Around one in six of individual visiting contractors who undertake building maintenance and repairs say they have qualifications in asbestos and just one in eight claim to have a good working knowledge or qualifications in asbestos.
Also of concern is the apparent divergence over asbestos information provision between a property owner / duty holder and a visiting contractor. While all dutyholders claim to supply the required information, and four in every five contractors make an initial request, three in five actually receive the information for commercial buildings, dropping to two in five for residential properties.
Despite of yearly survey reports and ongoing campaigns by the HSE and many other organisations, lack of asbestos awareness and proper disposal procedure is frequently reported when mesothelioma claim cases are brought to court. Currently, there are more than 1.8 million people annually exposed to asbestos and over 4,000 asbestosis related deaths recorded in the UK, of which there are 2,000 cases of mesothelioma still being diagnosed.