HSE campaign targets deadly asbestos


In the construction safety sector, we are well aware of HSE campaigns to alert us to the dangers of working with asbestos when refurbishing or demolishing buildings.

These often take the form of unannounced raids on refurbishment sites by inspectors. However on this occasion there is different approach, appealing to all tradespersons in a wider group of sectors, and involving new forms of education. This has to be welcomed, because according to HSE, 20 people per week die of asbestos-related diseases.

Mark Harper, Minister for Health and Safety, is seen here launching the new campaign at the TradePoint store in Cricklewood.

The main people at risk, who according to an HSE-sponsored survey might encounter asbestos over 100 times in every year, include:

  • construction workers
  • carpenters
  • painters & decorators

Poor awareness

The research study was made by Censuswide in September 2014. It does point up some worrying gaps in the knowledge of people in these trades. 53% of those surveyed knew that asbestos may be found in buildings erected before 1970 (in itself this is not a great degree of awareness): but only 15% knew that it might be in buildings built as recently as 2000.

When asked about materials that may contain asbestos, some knew little or nothing. For example, a mere 19% were aware that toilet seats or cisterns might contain it.

Urban myths

Another finding was just how common are some unfounded beliefs in forms of protection that will in reality not work: 14% thought that if they drink a glass of water it will help, and 27% they could open a window and thus be safe.

Overall, only 30% could correctly identify all of the correct safe working methods; while 57% were wrong in at least one respect that could prove deadly.

Asbestos was used all over buildings, including (but not limited to):

  • walls
  • ceilings
  • floor tiles
  • boilers
  • guttering
  • soffits

Simple work like drilling holes or sanding can release microscopic fibres can may lead to lung diseases or cancers.

Campaign details

TradePoint has pledged to hand out asbestos safety kits to its trade customers at all its stores around the country.
Another key element of the campaign is a new web app for phones, tablets and laptops. It is designed to help tradespeople to identify where they might encounter asbestos in their daily work, and provides personalised assistance to help them deal with the danger.

HSE Chief Inspector for Construction, Philip White, commented:

“Asbestos is still a very real danger and the survey findings suggest that the people who come into contact with it regularly often don’t know where it could be and worryingly don’t know how to deal with it correctly, which could put them in harm’s way. Our new campaign aims to help tradespeople understand some of the simple steps they can take to stay safe. Our new web app is designed for use on a job so workers can easily identify if they are likely to face danger and can then get straight forward advice to help them do the job safely.”

McCormack Benson Health & Safety, as a specialist building safety consultancy, supports this initiative. We recommend all contactor personnel to download the app at www.beware-asbestos.info/news