The recent Grenfell Tower disaster has put the construction industry under the microscope and concerns about asbestos are currently hitting the news.
The tower was built in 1974 and the now-banned fire retardant, asbestos, was present in textured ceilings and in airing cupboards. Worries that survivors, firefighters and other first responders who were exposed to smoke and dust inhalation may be at risk of asbestos poisoning, follow similar reported cases in the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster in New York.
Such tragedies have highlighted the risks of asbestos, but in reality, asbestos is an ongoing concern. Indeed most public buildings built between 1950 and 2000 are likely to contain asbestos, such as schools and hospitals.
A lot of work has been undertaken within the construction industry to raise awareness of asbestos and risks associated with it. It appears more work is needed in this area after a recent survey identified that 32% of construction workers have never checked an asbestos register before starting work on a new site. Given that 20 tradespeople die each week with asbestos-related illnesses and in the region of 3,000 people die from it in the UK each year, it seems tragic that people working in proximity of this deadly substance are not better informed.
The HSE are taking a hard line. Recent fines given to companies for non-compliance when working with asbestos have increased. Following the court case against Thistlemoor Healthcare and Management Ltd who pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 5 of Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and were fined £15,000, HSE inspector Samantha Wells commented: “The risk of exposure to asbestos could so easily have been avoided if the company had carried out a suitable and sufficient asbestos assessment to identify the presence of asbestos within properties prior to commencing refurbishment work. Companies should be aware HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
Realistically it will be impossible to remove asbestos from buildings in the next few decades and therefore training and raising awareness of asbestos and the risks will be key to keeping people safe.
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