We’re less than 2 weeks away from Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW, April 1-7, 2017). Promoted by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the GAAW is dedicated to increasing awareness of, and preventing exposure to asbestos.
ADAO is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit that reached over 44 countries with GAAW last year. This year’s GAAW will focus on banning the mining of asbestos, preventing exposure through increased awareness, and then increasing compliance and enforcement of existing laws and regulations. You can read more here.
Here in Great Britain, there were 2,515 deaths from mesothelioma in 2014 with a similar number of lung cancer deaths linked to past exposures to asbestos. That’s over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths in 2014. Further, there were 2,717 new cases of mesothelioma reported in the same time period and a total of 14,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems self-reporting annually (although not all of the 14,000 were caused by asbestos).
The HSE forecasts are for mesothelioma deaths to level off at 2,500 per year through the rest of this decade before beginning to decline.
That’s a relief, isn’t it?
There is a tendency to think that the cause is in the past, that we just need to nudge through the next few years and eventually asbestos-related deaths will be behind us. But is that really the case?
Firstly, it’s important to note that 94% of the mesothelioma cases above were preventable. So the focus of this year’s GAAW on awareness, compliance and enforcement will definitely help. Unfortunately, there will always be the corner cutting businesses who flout the law whether through their own ignorance of the effects of asbestos (a stretch, I know), or through a malicious disregard for their own workers (yep, I’d go with this one too). Even as recently as December 2016, Connect Packaging Ltd and Creo Retail Marketing Ltd were fined for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos.
Secondly, even though the 1999 Asbestos Prohibitions Amendment Regulations officially banned the import, supply and use of all forms of asbestos in the UK, there is still a vast amount of asbestos in our schools, hospitals, prisons, Government buildings and even our brand-name stores.
The Government’s first survey on asbestos in schools (published February 2017) found that over 80% contained asbestos, that 20% were not fully compliant with asbestos requirements, and that 2% were “a significant cause for concern” and needed Government intervention. This data was from the 25% of schools who responded to the voluntary survey. Whether they were representative is a good question that Chris Keates of the teacher’s union NASUWT asks in the linked article above.
Should we be worried about the teachers and kids in the schools containing asbestos? Quite probably. Should we be concerned about workers performing maintenance in these schools? Probably, particularly in those schools listed as “not fully compliant”. Definitely, in those 114 schools (the 2%) found to be a “serious concern without a proper, professionally reviewed management plan for dealing with asbestos”. The paragraph above refers to these schools needing Government intervention. According to the linked article, these schools have reportedly given the DfE “assurances” that the asbestos is now being “managed effectively”. This doesn’t gel. How can there be serious concerns and no plan and yet they provide assurances that the asbestos is being managed effectively?
Further, in almost half of the schools, there was a failure to communicate presence of, and risk of exposure to asbestos. Staff, caretakers and facilities managers alike have not been made aware. The simple act of a teacher or student pinning work to a wall may lead to the disturbance of asbestos…
So, it is a relief that the HSE forecast for mesothelioma deaths is plateauing and then declining, but has the threat gone away? Clearly not.
At Banyard Solutions we are committed to preventing avoidable incidents. Our e-permits solution contains an asbestos module that ensures only qualified (trained and licensed) workers are present where asbestos may be disturbed.
We will continue to develop this thread in future posts to help promote awareness of asbestos and to drive compliance to all applicable laws and regulations. We’ll be running a webinar in April on the role we play for our clients in helping them manage exposure to asbestos in their buildings. Please subscribe below to receive notifications in your inbox and make sure you don’t miss out on vital information.If You Like This Post, Please Share It!