Whenever a case of a building firm, which fails to observe the Control of Asbestos Regulations is heard in court, we are once again, reminded that the repeated lack of asbestos awareness and the risks of exposure in the UK are not health hazards consigned to the past but still very much with us today.

Not just for the tradesmen directly involved in the renovation of a school or housing estate, for example, but also the building occupants such as vulnerable employees, teachers or tenants and even residents living nearby.

More than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE frequently rollout awareness campaigns, such as “Hidden Killer”, designed to help the building industry to better inform their workforce to recognise and properly dispose of asbestos whenever and wherever it is uncovered.

The latest initiative, Asbestos Training Pledge NI is to take place in Northern Ireland over a 12 week period from 7 January to 29 March 2013. The course organised by the HSENI, will not only help local tradesmen to learn more about the real and ever present dangers of asbestos but is also aimed at encouraging duty-holders to take advantage of a new three-month programme of free training.

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 /12, any duty holder who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of non-domestic premises has a legal duty to manage the risks posed by the presence of asbestos. They must also inform tradesmen if asbestos is present in a building and are required to maintain an asbestos register, which they must make available on request.

White asbestos (chrysotile) was still being used in building materials, such as wallboards, tiles, pipe lagging, sprayed and textured coatings, roofing and cement products after 1985, when the most dangerous types of asbestos were banned form use. The HSE estimate that around half a million properties around the UK, constructed or renovated up until at least the 1990s or beyond still contain hidden quantities of mainly white chrysotile asbestos.

It may also not be well known that every week an average of 20 tradesmen, consisting mostly carpenters, electricians and plumbers, will die from mesothelioma or other asbestosis diseases due to exposure at some point in their working lives. A period of 15 to 50 years can elapse from the initial breathing in of the asbestos fibres until the first appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms.

1000 course places have been pledged by training providers in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which will be available in e-learning or classroom-based formats. All training is free of charge and will be offered on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Click here for more information on Asbestos Training Pledge NI at the HSENI website or call 0800 0320 121.