Mesothelioma sufferers, national support groups, the Health & Safety Executive and asbestosis lawyers may all be concerned to hear, once again, the latest examples of a serious lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks by tradesmen who fail to carry out their legal duties to conduct pre-work, asbestos surveys.

In the first case, a court heard how a decorating company exposed employees, agency staff and members of the public to potentially fatal asbestos containing materials ( ACMs) over a two week period during an office refurbishment at a Dorset industrial estate.

No asbestos survey nor protective clothing

An HSE investigation found that failure to carry out an asbestos survey, as required by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, meant that asbestos insulation ceiling board was removed from the 2- storey premises by contractors without protective clothing or breathing masks.

In addition, four employees and 14 agency staff were also exposed to airborne asbestos fibre dust and it was likely that many more members of the public could have been exposed during the disposal operation.

Pleading guilty to three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, the decorating company was fined a total of £82,000 including costs.

No asbestos training

In the second case, a Nottinghamshire plumber also failed to carry out a pre-work asbestos search when replacing a water tank in a loft. The work involved the plumber’s son, who had not received any asbestos training, to break up and remove a boxed surround built with asbestos panels. As a result, asbestos fibre dust particles were released into the loft requiring licensed contractors to be called to properly clear the contaminated atmosphere.

The plumber was fined a total of £9,000 inc costs, for breaching Regulations 10(1)(a) and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

Over the years, the Health and Safety Executive have conducted regular asbestos awareness campaigns, such as “Hidden Killer” and “Asbestos Essentials”. Increasingly, construction industry companies and trade groups collaborate in running courses aimed at educating new generations of builders and tradesmen in the ever present risks of asbestos in thousands of public, private and commercial buildings around the UK.

Ignoring regulations

Yet, not a week passes without another trade firm appearing in court either unaware or ignoring the regulations. The Great British Asbestos in Buildings Survey 2011 found that while a quarter of tradesmen are unaware they have come into direct contact with asbestos, over a third said they know when they have disturbed asbestos during their on- site work. Only one in six of building maintenance contractors say they have asbestos training qualifications and just one in eight claim to have a good working knowledge or qualifications in asbestos.

Until the 1999 import ban was enforced, white “chrysotile” asbestos continued to be used in most properties built or renovated up until the 1980s at least and is commonly found in properties as insulating board, ceiling panels, built partitioning, roofing and tiles.

Asbestos still present

Far from being consigned to the British industrial past, asbestos is still very much with us today and is frequently discovered during building renovations . Unless a survey has been conducted first, almost invariably, the deadly fibres are released when handled by untrained workers. Once breathed in, the fibre particles lodge within the lung linings, causing inflammation, and can eventually lead to asbestosis disease or the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

The HSE state that each year, more than 1.8 million people are exposed to asbestos and over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed.