The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) urges construction workers to take asbestos training more seriously.
It’s been more than 20 years since asbestos was banned in the UK but, because of a lack of awareness of the dangers, the deadly building material is still claiming the lives of more than 1,000 tradespeople people every year.
Deaths from asbestos exposure have increased dramatically in the last 15 years after widespread use between the 1950s and ‘70s. Asbestos is now considered the largest single industrial killer ever seen in the UK.
John Dunn, a self-employed bricklayer, is paying the price for his exposure to asbestos 42 years after entering the construction industry as an apprentice bricklayer in 1978. Diagnosed with Atypical Tuberculosis (TB) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), John attributes his life-limiting illnesses to not wearing PPE. A problem, he says, is still present in the construction industry today despite stringent health and safety regulations.
He said: One of the biggest health and safety concerns that bricklayers face is dust, yet many do not follow best practice and damp bricks with water before cutting, use dust suppression kits, suitable extraction tools or even masks.
“All too often PPE is viewed as a hassle. It costs time. It costs money. Even the tools required highlight the cost of working safely – a disc cutter which spews dust freely might cost £500 but an arbiter, which creates minimal dust and can have vacuums fitted, might cost upwards of £1,500. The worries of providing for your family dwindles when you realise that you can’t provide for them beyond the grave. PPE saves lives.”
Because of its resistance to heat, corrosion and electricity, asbestos was used widely in construction for 100 years prior to its ban. So much so that it is estimated that even today there is six million tonnes of the highly toxic material in as many as 1.5 million buildings in the UK.
Asbestos is thought to have been used in more than 4,000 products, including ceiling tiles, cement fireplaces and textured ceilings, often mixed in with other materials and making it almost impossible to detect.
When undisturbed, asbestos rarely poses a threat. However, if the microscopic fibres are released, people are at risk of inhaling them and developing deadly asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma (cancer of the lung linings). These are not identified immediately after exposure, and can present themselves anywhere between 15 and up to 60 years afterwards. The latency period of asbestos, coupled with a substantial drop in training numbers during the pandemic, could mean that the UK will be facing a greater amount of deaths from asbestos over the next 15 – 60 years.
The HSE recommends that asbestos refresher training courses should be undertaken to help ensure knowledge of asbestos awareness is maintained. The asbestos regulations also make it clear that asbestos training for non-licensable and licensable asbestos works should be carried out at least annually.
Under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015), tradespeople are also legally required to ensure construction work and repairs are undertaken safely and without damaging worker’s and other people’s health.
Craig Evans, Chief Operating Officer of UKATA, a leading authority on asbestos, urged contractors to take asbestos more seriously: “Since UKATA was established ten years ago, our members have provided asbestos training to more than two million people, but this is still not enough particularly when you consider how many construction workers there are in the UK.”
To ensure asbestos training continues to be accessible during the pandemic, UKATA approved its 200-member companies and individuals to deliver asbestos courses by video conference technology. Craig added: “It is now vitally important that all construction employers and workers ensure that all asbestos training is up-to-date. These are difficult times, but this is a matter of life or death.”
Low cost UKATA-approved asbestos training is widely available throughout the UK.
The half day Asbestos Awareness course is designed for demolition workers and those workers in the refurbishment, maintenance and allied trades where it is likely that their work will disturb the fabric of the building and therefore asbestos containing materials may become exposed during their work.
Similarly, UKATA also offers an Asbestos Awareness course for Groundworkers where ground drilling and manual excavations, fencing installation, on site remediation and waste disposal, may be likely to disturb asbestos containing materials.
The majority of UKATA-approved training providers are now fully operational and either delivering courses remotely online or face-to-face and observing social distancing guidelines.
To find a UKATA training provider in your area visit www.UKATA.org.uk