You say the word ‘asbestos’ in conversation and it will evoke feelings of toxicity, danger but also worryingly of the past. Many assume that because they remember their parents discussing the dangers of asbestos containing materials that may or may not be lining their attics after an extension in the 1970s, that the problem is one consigned to the history books and the medical history of a couple of generations ago. However, the truth is a lot more painful and certainly more present than that. Up until 2000 buildings in the UK could potentially have been subject to refurbishments that utilised asbestos. In fact, the UK was one of the last countries to wake up and smell the coffee, when it comes to banning the use of asbestos. This means that many houses and in the retail, education, leisure and industrial sectors on the market and in use today could still contain asbestos containing products.
The horrific legacy of this substance is still very much part of daily life for many tradesmen around the UK. Understanding how to avoid coming into close contact with the potentially life-threatening fibres that can lead to the deadly disease known as mesothelioma.
Conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that asbestos is consigned to rickety old lofts and attics, but believe it or not, it is often found in staircases or in kitchen floors. The risk posed by asbestos is when it is disturbed, making a full examination by someone who is trained to recognise the signs of asbestos containing materials is vital before any work takes place in buildings renovated or constructed before 2000.
It is very clear that asbestos remains a latent problem in buildings across the UK, simply logic can tell us that. However, this is also backed up by worrying statistics. Deaths from mesothelioma spiked at a peak of 2,538 in 2013, with only a very slight reduction in 2014 to 2,515 – this in spite of the increased vigilance and understanding of asbestos over the years.
It is clear that there is still much work to do in educating the relevant people and making sure that they are well-trained and refreshed in how to deal with a potential asbestos issue in the workplace. As well as the moral obligation that companies face to ensure that everyone along the chain of command knows exactly what to do in the event of encountering asbestos containing products, there is also a legal one. UK companies are obliged to offer relevant asbestos training and protection of their staff to ensure everything has been done to minimise the risk of exposure.
There are a wide variety of asbestos training courses available in the UK. Choosing which one is relevant is by and large a question of whether or not the person is likely to be handling (i.e. responsible for the removal of) asbestos. In such a case there is a specific course available. All courses are accredited by UKATA and this body also keeps an organised and up-to-date database of everyone who has passed one of their courses. This is another reason why it is so important to ensure that staff are fully trained. It would be very damaging to the reputation of a company who was being checked before being offered a contract only to find that it evidently did not care about the safety of its employees.
Every asbestos training course is valid for one year, after which refresher courses must be taken to make sure that delegates are fully covered. All this information, it is worth reiterating, is in the public domain.