DURING February and March 2012, the Health & Safety Executive carried out a targeted inspection campaign visiting over 3,200 refurbishment sites across the UK.
Here in the North East, inspectors visited a total of 215 sites and had to take formal enforcement action at 56 of these sites by issuing enforcement notices either to prohibit work activities, or to get matters put right. Alarmingly 30 of these notices related to asbestos matters.
Ten prohibition notices were issued stopping work at premises where there they had not had an asbestos survey carried out, or the survey was inadequate for the extent of the work being undertaken. A further 20 improvement notices were issued requiring workers to be given asbestos awareness training.
Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry up until 1999 for a variety of uses. Subsequently, we have a legacy of buildings where materials containing asbestos were present. Provided the material is in good condition, and not likely to be damaged, it may be preferable to leave it.
However, it has become apparent during the recent refurbishment campaign that, at a significant number of those sites inspected, those in control of the work were unaware of their legal duties in relation to asbestos and those undertaking the work were unaware of the potential danger they could be exposed to.
Even where a full intrusive survey has been undertaken, undiscovered asbestos containing materials may remain and only become exposed during the work activity.
It is a fact that exposure to asbestos fibres is the primary cause of over 4,000 premature deaths per year. It is also a fact that the highest number of newly diagnosed cases of asbestos related disease are to those who work in the construction industry.
It is therefore vitally important to reduce the likelihood of personal exposure, wider contamination and potentially exposing others to asbestos when undertaking work that could release asbestos fibres.
It is not surprising then that there is a legal requirement for asbestos awareness training to be given to anyone whose work could foreseeably expose them to asbestos.
Asbestos awareness training should be given to all demolition workers, those workers in the refurbishment, maintenance and allied trades where it is foreseeable that their work will disturb the fabric of the building. The training covers the properties of asbestos, its effects on health, types of asbestos, what it looks like, where it is likely to have been used, emergency procedures should it be disturbed and how to avoid risks of exposure.
Asbestos awareness training courses are readily available locally and only take half a day to attend.
For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 374 0233 or email@example.com.
Rob Hirst, HM principal inspector (construction), Health and Safety Executive