A study carried out by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to ascertain how much construction workers know about asbestos has thrown out some alarming results.
The study showed a worrying lack of knowledge about asbestos, despite the legal duty on employers to ensure that all those who may disturb asbestos undergo awareness training. This applies to most, if not all, construction workers, ie installers, maintenance staff, engineers, builders, renovators, plumbers, electricians, and so on.
Key findings of the study include:
• 59% have been informed of the asbestos risks and have had this reinforced regularly with training. 15% have never been informed.
• 23% say they have been exposed to asbestos; with only 27 per cent saying they haven’t been exposed.
• 32% have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, with 15% of these not knowing about the register.
• 18% said that if they found asbestos they would either be unsure or have no idea what to do.
Asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye. If asbestos-containing material is disturbed, fibres may become airborne and may be inhaled. Once in the lungs, asbestos fibres can cause fatal incurable illnesses such as mesothelioma. It is essential that anyone who may be exposed to asbestos is fully aware of the dangers and of what to do on encountering asbestos.
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A Nottinghamshire based specialist asbestos company was commissioned to conduct R&D surveys before the demolition of a number of garages. The company's report concluded that there was only asbestos present in cement roofs, and that there was none in the garages themselves. Demolition went ahead on the basis of this suvey but suspect material was found. Another surveying company confirmed the presence of large quantities of asbestos insulation board in the rubble.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £7,ooo.
A community housing association received a £30,000 fine for failing to manage its employees exposure to vibration over a five-year period. Employees were routinely exposed to vibration in their day to day work using vibratory tools. When, in 2015, the company introduced health surveillance, it was found that a number of employees were suffering from hand arm vibration syndrom (HAVS).
The HSE found that the company had failed to adequately assess the risk to employees from the use of vibrating tools or implement measures to reduce that exposure. They had not placed employees under health surveillance nor provided them with suitable training.
An asbestos removal company forged medical certificates and training certificates for its asbestos removers in order to obtain an asbestos licence from the HSE so that it could trade. An investigation found that the company could not demonstrate that it had properly trained or monitored its workers who were exposed.
The manager who had forged the documents was prosecuted under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was sentenced to a 12-week suspended prison sentence, 200 hours of community service and a costs order of £1000.
The company was fined £13,000 plus £10,000 costs.
A painter subcontracted by two large construction companies to carry out work on a station waiting room roof sustained serious ligament injuries when he fell through the fragile surface. He had not been briefed on the risk assessment which required workers to wear full body harnesses, and had not been warned about the fragile roof.
The two companies were fined a total of £965k after admitting to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.