Recent case stresses need for proper asbestos procedures and training
A recent case heard in the Canterbury magistrates’ court recently serves to underline the sad fact that although training is provided by employers, it needs a sensible employee to follow what they have learned. In May of 2013, a supervisor working for a company licensed to remove asbestos was seen by an inspector from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) to be working unprotected by either a face mask or proper protective clothing.
The contractor had put all the correct precautions in place; a fenced-off site compound with restricted access warning signs, a decontamination unit with three separate cleaning areas and sealed the boiler house with a three-stage air lock and another employee was using his protective equipment correctly. The supervisor, however, had neglected to use his protection which may of course have very serious implications for his health in the future. He was fined £1,000 with £1,500 towards costs after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 but he may well have already been damaged by asbestos fibres and will have a wait of possibly many years to find out whether his recklessness will have shortened his life. He will also, with the conviction on record, be unable to claim compensation.
Training courses are not for fun
In court, the supervisor admitted that he had received training and that the correctly supplied protective clothing was available to him within the sealed compound. For some reason, not revealed in the reporting, he decided not to bother to protect himself. As a licensed remover of asbestos, he must have been aware of the risks involved – 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre is the absolutely minimum acceptable although there is no ‘safe’ level – and so he has risked his health very seriously. Not only that, but as a supervisor, he had the health of others as his responsibility and so there was a risk that he would have advised them wrongly; at the very least, he was giving a very poor example of behaviour. Unfortunately, Asbestos training courses and the tests at the end of them do not guarantee that the end user will actually take any notice of what they learn – even so, courses are vital and it must be hoped that this example is a rare one-off.
Training courses need topping up
Training courses usually finish up with the awarding of a certificate of competence or a picture card with a certain lifespan but it is not necessary to wait until this date if it is felt that staff need top ups it is good practice to make sure they get what they require to keep their skills up to date. Sometimes – as the case above proves – familiarity breeds contempt and it is a very good idea to make sure that everyone appreciates the dangers they may face in their work and not become complacent about health and safety. This can result in very tragic results especially where something as dangerous as asbestos is concerned.