The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has issued a timely reminder to contractors, and anyone commissioning building to be vigilant regarding the dangers of asbestos. In a recent case, a Welsh businessman was heavily fined following a prosecution brought by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) in which he was found guilty of allowing the spread of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). He was selling a business unit in September 2012 when the purchasers commissioned an asbestos survey. This showed large amounts of asbestos insulating boards in the unit which needed to be removed prior to completion of the sale.

Legally, the seller should have employed a qualified and licensed asbestos removal contractor, whose staff would be correctly trained and certificated but, presumably in an attempt to save time and/or money, the seller is alleged to have used a general contractor. Because of the untrained staff working on the job, asbestos dust spread throughout the building, at a serious risk to the contractor’s life and those of his employees. A major clear up operation was required to remove the dust but there is no way of knowing what damage has been done to the health of all of those involved. Only time will tell. The seller was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £7,400 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

UKATA has launched a new training programme

There has been a recent rise in the number of prosecutions brought against smaller contractors and tradesmen who appear to have fallen between the cracks when it comes to accessing asbestos awareness training. To put things right, UKATA has launched  a campaign called Train Safe, Work Safe, Keep Safe; this will provide free asbestos training during September and October this year and is designed specifically as a chance to deliver essential training for those likely to come into contact with asbestos in their day to day work. Training is available widely at all kinds of level, from the basic awareness training for people who could just conceivably encounter asbestos right up to the very comprehensive training for those who wish to work as licensed removers.

Risks are simply not worth taking

Training can only go so far; the recipient must then make sure that they use what they have learned to keep everyone safe. With proper training, however, incidents such as that above will hopefully stop happening. If staff are aware that as little as one fibre of asbestos can lead to debilitating or fatal disease later in life, they are less likely to be able to be persuaded to undertake work that their training has taught them might be hazardous. Asbestos fibres are extremely light and become airborne very easily, so it is not just the life of those immediately working with asbestos that are at risk, but also anyone in the vicinity. Without training about cleaning clothes, hair and skin, even the worker’s family at home can be at serious risk – not something anyone would want to risk.