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Managing Asbestos: Britain's biggest workplace killer

18 November 2010

Asbestos continues to top the list of causes of death in the workplace. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there are around 4,000 deaths caused by asbestos-related diseases each year in Britain and building owners and managers have a ‘duty of care’ to manage any asbestos in their building.

Managing asbestos is essential if the building is pre-2000, and includes all non-domestic buildings, whatever the business, as well as the common areas of residential rented buildings, such as halls, stair wells, lift shafts and roof spaces. Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s, as it was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. It can be found in asbestos cement products and insulating board; textured coatings; floor tiles, textiles and composites; sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls and beams/columns; lagging, and as loose asbestos in ceiling or floor cavities. In good condition, asbestos materials are safe, but when damaged or disturbed, asbestos fibres become airborne. This is when tradesmen and other contractors can become affected – giving rise, eventually, some 30 or even 50/60 years hence, to Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases – and, finally, a very painful death.

Earlier this month (November) the HSE reported on the case of the boss of a refurbishment firm in North Tyneside being fined for a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 during a heating upgrade of a property. The firm’s staff were found not to have been given any asbestos awareness training, despite a legal requirement to do so.

Asbestos management does not only include asbestos awareness training, it also requires that a current survey of a building is readily available to anyone doing work on a building, combined with a management plan to minimise the risks to employees and occupants. According to Independent Training News, the newsletter for the IATP¹, reporting on a recent partnership meeting² "the biggest area of concern was again the failure of duty holders either to be aware of their duty to manage asbestos containing materials …….. and think all they had to do was a survey. Very few asbestos management plans have been seen and this would appear to apply to many very large ‘Blue chip’ organisations as well as the smaller ones." Clearly, the need for a management plan needs to be better understood by duty holders.

Says Steve Gerring, managing director of training and consultancy firm, Medway Safety, "We always offer to undertake building surveys or review existing documentation and to assist with preparing the asbestos register and management plans when asked to undertake Asbestos Awareness training. "Whilst many attendees acknowledge the need for such documentation, often they are not those with responsibility for commissioning the survey and management plan. The need for management level training is therefore evident, hence the development of our one-day Managing Asbestos Awareness that has also obtained UKATA approval.

"It is important to remember that ‘managing asbestos’ is about protecting yourself and other people from exposure to asbestos fibres," he went on. "You are not required to remove asbestos if it is in good condition. You are though, expected to keep up-to-date information of any asbestos in the building, so it can be easily identified, and also record its condition, not forgetting to share the information with those affected."

A few months ago, Medway Safety introduced a new one day course for the management of asbestos in buildings, following on from their popular Asbestos Awareness course first introduced in 2009. Both courses are approved by UKATA This new one day course extends the company’s asbestos awareness course to provide an overview and practical advice using current HSE guidance and ACOP’s³ enabling the duty holder to minimise risks to employees and occupants from any asbestos present in a building.

"We take care to design our courses to be practical and relevant to a business," says Steve Gerring. "Health and Safety is not meant to be a bureaucratic burden, but a means to manage a business better to prevent losses to an organisation and its people."

Visit www.medwaysafety.co.uk for details of Medway Safety’s training courses and services

¹ Independent Asbestos Training Providers (IATP)

² Meeting between the HSE, IATP & United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA)

³ Approved Code of Practice (ACOP)

Medway Safety Limited 267 High Street Chatham Kent ME4 4BN

www.medwaysafety.co.uk T: 0845 269 5550 E: info@medwaysafety.co.uk


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