The press have reported a number of incidents recently from across the UK concerning the mishandling of asbestos in varied settings and the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has spoken out to express its concern that training, though given, is being widely ignored. The General Manager of UKATA, Craig Evans, has made it clear that the absolute minimum requirement for anyone even slightly likely to come in contact with asbestos must be asbestos awareness training.

He took great pains to clarify that having awareness training is in no way a licence to handle the material, as it gives the basic knowledge for identifying asbestos and then minimising contact only. Anyone licensed to remove or dispose of asbestos must have much more thorough training such as the UKATA asbestos removal course however this is currently not always happening.

Rising numbers of HSE prosecutions

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has reported a rise in the number of prosecutions relating to bad asbestos handling practice. Examples include that of a builder using unlicensed contractors to remove asbestos in an industrial building, causing a major spread of the fibres. A builder was recently jailed for exposing himself and three others to asbestos by removing a large amount of insulating board containing asbestos, despite having no licence.

Although the sentence may be seen by some who have little or no knowledge of the dangers of asbestos to be harsh, it is in fact a necessary deterring measure. There is no quoted ‘safe’ minimum’ for asbestos, for the simple reason that it is impossible to say what level might be dangerous – for some individuals it could be as low as a single fibre. With the time taken to cause problems, asbestos is a silent killer – some people develop serious health issues almost at once, others may show no real symptoms for sixty years. The bottom line of asbestos exposure, though, is that there is a very real risk of death or severe disablement.

Trade Safe, Work Safe, Keep safe

UKATA has recently launched a new initiative to give small traders free asbestos safety training, but any company whose employees are likely to encounter asbestos regularly are urged to top up that level of training with something more robust. Training is easy to arrange – Boss Training offers a variety of courses ranging from class room based courses to online asbestos training – and it definitely saves lives. Figures are hard to arrive at because diseases attributed to asbestos can take so long to manifest, but they numbers will rise if more care is not routinely taken.

Although most people are generally aware of the dangers of asbestos, anyone finding it in their workplace – the people at risk in particular are builders, renovators, plumbers and electricians – must have the knowledge to identify it and the means to hand to make sure that they alert the proper people to cope with it. Some employers do put their staff under pressure to complete a job regardless but everyone must be taught that asbestos kills – full stop.