Asbestos – Out with the Old, and in with the (er) Old

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asbestos in the UK state of play January 2018

And so it continues. 2018 has begun with three high profile stories on exposing employees and contractors to asbestos fibres and the associated seeming disregard for safety.

Firstly, SSE Hornsea Ltd were fined £300K after 13 employees and contractors were exposed to asbestos fibres after 3 of them performed routine mechanical maintenance on a compressed air distribution system. HSE Inspector Paul Miller said: “In this case, SSE Hornsea Ltd substantially failed to manage the risks associated with asbestos found within their process plant and have needlessly risked the future health of 13 people.”

Then, M&S Developments (Bemrose Court) Limited and Kynersley Management Services Limited were each fined after two young labourers were instructed to remove an asbestos insulating board ceiling during a churchyard store room refurbishment. The asbestos was identified during a survey but neither of the labourers were trained in asbestos removal, nor was the contractor licensed. HSE inspector Andrew Bowker said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by the duty holders simply carrying out correct asbestos control measures and safe working practices.”

Finally, engineer Dave Smith claimed he was blacklisted by Carillion for complaining about “the dangers of asbestos on building sites”. This highlighted a broader issue than asbestos in that it is claimed that 40 construction companies colluded in blacklisting more than 3,000 people because of their their political views and trade union membership.

Is the blacklist indicative of an attitude to health and safety that manifests itself in either or both of the first two examples? Dying from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is a gruesome, awful way to die. Yet, 5,500 people die such a death every year in the UK and we continue to expose others to a similar fate. Why?

Check out the HSE quotes above: “needlessly risked the future health” and “this incident could so easily have been avoided by the duty holders”. We’re not dealing with rocket science here, we’re not trying to have a space probe travel for 12 years before landing on a distant (moving) comet (oh, yeah we did that). A basic regard for heath and safety over corner cutting is all that is required.

Please don’t let that be you and your organisation. As duty holders you have the responsibility to survey your buildings for asbestos, then make sure any work is done (by licensed contractors where appropriate) in accordance with CAR 2012 guidelines. We’ve even built those guidelines into the e-permits asbestos module. You can click this link to watch a demo of how e-permits helps prevent asbestos exposure.

Of course, it’s not just the private sector. Most of our public buildings have asbestos that is killing members of the public and staff alike. Of course, the removal of all that asbestos is cost prohibitive and not practicable. Or is it? Is it just a question of scale? Should we workers and member of the public demand more action, more protection?

Watch out for a future post on the question of scale. Let’s put the record 2017 £61M fines for health and safety breaches in a wider context and let’s look at the cost of eradicating asbestos from our public buildings in the context of other government spend. Let’s see what this tells us.

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