Asbestos Awareness in the Construction Industry

Asbestos Awareness in the Construction Industry

21st March 2016

We’ve said it before here at Safety Fabrications and we’re saying it again – ASBESTOS IS DANGEROUS! Asbestos still hits the construction news headlines on at least a weekly basis as the industry endeavours to raise awareness of this fatal substance that seems to be just about everywhere in Britain. Despite a total ban on the use of asbestos in new buildings which came into force in 1999, this deadly material was so widely used prior to the ban that it’s still presenting problems and is likely to do so for many years to come. This was recently highlighted in Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court where a gas engineer was fined £450 and ordered to pay costs of £920 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The engineer removed potentially dangerous asbestos material during the replacement of a gas boiler, putting both himself and other at risk of exposure to lethal asbestos fibres. When the engineer removed an old warm air heating system at a residential property in Wrafton, he disturbed a quantity of asbestos insulation board that surrounded the boiler. Despite concerns from tenants of the building, the engineer carried on removing the material and bagging it up – he then removed the bags from the property and stored them at his yard.

According to HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Inspector, Simon Jones, the engineers negligence may result in serious health problems for himself and others who came into contact with the material and that his experience as a gas engineer means that he should have realised that asbestos insulation board was likely to have been used on a 30 year old gas boiler.

Sadly, we’re likely to hear more stories like this over the coming years as older buildings across the UK are refurbished or remodelled in order to bring them up to modern standards. Life has changed in recent years and we expect much more of our homes and workspaces than we did before the total ban on the use of asbestos. We want more electrical cables, more electrical outlets, so rewiring work will increase in coming years. We also need to take into consideration the smart homes of the future – not all of these will be new builds so many existing buildings will need to be retrofitted with cabling systems that are capable of carrying electrical, A/V, phone, data and control wiring in one structured system.

This all means that those of us in the construction industry will be on the front line when it comes to spotting and dealing with asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Construction companies will need to ensure that staff are fully trained in recognising and dealing with asbestos – a tall order as the sector struggles to overcome problems caused by a general skills shortage. There will be a requirement for more people to train as asbestos removal specialists (probably not the most glamorous of professions and unlikely to attract school leavers). However, companies that spot this gap in the market and move to fill it are likely to benefit from their foresight in the future.