The risk of exposure to asbestos, especially to the public as well as the tradesmen working everyday on renovating, rebuilding or demolishing premises around the UK, continues into 2013.
In between the latest scandals over horse meat, banker’s bonuses and MP mishaps, there are the never-ending stories reported in the press where lack of asbestos awareness or wilful disregard of the legal procedures have led to unsafe disposal of asbestos waste and the risk of breathing in the deadly fibre dust.
Just in the first six weeks of this year, cases have been heard where, once again, either a management asbestos survey was not undertaken in advance or if it had been carried out, vital information about its presence in the premises had not been passed on to the builders.
In most instances, safe working practices are practically non-existent. One typical example was the recent investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) into a Birmingham builder who simply broke up the asbestos panels he found while working in a private residence with potential health risks to himself, the home owner and their children. According to the HSE, the builder did not hold the necessary licence to remove asbestos, failed to recognise the material or take adequate steps to prevent both the exposure and spread of the fibre dust.
The same problems have continually been highlighted ever since white asbestos (chrysotile) imports were finally banned in 1999. Up until the 1980s at least, asbestos fibres were still being incorporated into building materials, such as insulating board, wall board, textured coatings, sprayed insulation roofing and cement products. There is unlikely to be a commercial or residential property built or refurbished at that time which does not contain hidden asbestos materials.
HSE have run many awareness campaigns, such as their ‘Hidden Killer’ programme since 2008, aimed principally at the building and construction industries, but also property owners and duty holders, to inform and warn about the serious health risks of asbestos.
In April 2012, the HSE published a straightforward, asbestos “Essentials’ guide to help all individuals to comply with the Asbestos Regulations. Currently, Asbestos Training Pledge NI is being held in Northern Ireland over a 12 week period from 7 January to 29 March 2013.
Scotland is the next location for the latest initiative from HSE, in partnership with the Federation of Master Builders and the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives, who are holding an awareness event at Clydebank College, on Wednesday, 6 March.
According to the HSE, “Many young trades-people believe that, because asbestos is no longer used in buildings, it’s no longer a threat to them.” The one day session will provide lecturers and training providers with key information about the “Introduction to Asbestos Training Package”, developed by HSE to help building apprenticeship trainers to be aware of the very real risk today of asbestos exposure.
While white asbestos has been considered ‘low risk’ if left undisturbed, any attempt to handle can release fibre dust into the surrounding atmosphere and once breathed in, the fibres remain embedded within the linings of the lungs or stomach. Only after a long gestation period of up to 50 years from first exposure will the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms appear.
According to the HSE, more than 1.8 million people are exposed to asbestos and over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year.