Asbestos – the Risk of Non-compliance

Asbestos – the Risk of Non-compliance

22nd May 2017

Here at Safety Fabrications we like to make sure our readers are aware of all of the risks faced in the construction industry, not just the risks faced when working at height or using ladders of any type.  We’ve already informed our readers several times of the dangers of asbestos and the way in which legislation has been changed to minimise the risks associated with this insidious substance.  We’ve also highlighted the legal obligations of employers and building managers to ensure that asbestos surveys are carried out where necessary and pointed our readers in the right direction to undergo the requisite asbestos training.  The use of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) was banned in the UK in 1999 which means that many of the buildings in use in our country are likely to contain asbestos as its use was so widespread before the ban. 

This means that asbestos is likely to remain a killer for years to come with more than 2.500 new cases of mesothelioma (the most serious form of asbestos related cancer) being diagnosed each year while a further 2.500 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed which are likely to be caused by exposure to asbestos. 

Despite these figures (and similar figures in many countries around the world), chrysotile (or white asbestos) has not been added to the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances.  The Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam first recommended listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance in 2006 but the listing was blocked by several countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, India and Syria!  It only takes a single convention signatory to block a listing and asbestos campaigners are shocked that the product has not been banned.  Russia and Kazakhstan are major exporters of chrysotile, accounting for up to 70% of global production. 

The International Chrysotile Association welcomed the decision, maintaining that chrysotile is less dusty than other types of asbestos and more easily eliminated from the body but the overwhelming majority of health experts believe that chrysotile asbestos is a very real danger.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) sates that exposure to chrysotile fibres does cause cancer of the lungs, larynx and ovaries and has called for a worldwide ban.

The dangers of asbestos exposure were clearly demonstrated recently in a case that was investigated by the UK Health and Safety Executive.  A routine inspection of a refurbishment project discovered that 40 employees were put at risk to exposure to asbestos during the early demolition phase.  Despite the fact that a refurbishment and demolition survey (R&D) was carried out, recommendations were not acted on.  A second investigation found that despite engaging the services of a licensed asbestos contractor to remove the remaining asbestos material, dangerous practises were still in use, putting a further 160 workers at risk of exposure.

Canterbury Crown Court fined the construction company £750,000 with costs of nearly £15,000.  That’s a pretty steep bill that could have been avoided had all necessary safety measures been taken.  This case clearly shows just how vital it is to comply with health and safety legislation at all times.