Young tradespeople are focus of HSE’s new asbestos campaign

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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Tradespeople across the UK are being warned about the hidden dangers of asbestos, as part of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) campaign Asbestos & You.

Asbestos, a fibrous mineral once commonly used in construction, is often thought of as a thing of the past, having been banned by the Asbestos Prohibitions Regulations 1999. However, despite this ban, it still exists within older buildings built or refurbished before the year 2000, even to this day.

It’s estimated that around 5,000 people a year die from asbestos-related illnesses, due to exposure to asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). The material remains a serious risk, especially since the symptoms of illnesses like mesothelioma are latent, not manifesting until 20 or 30 years after the original exposure.

Tim Beaumont, HSE’s acting head of construction policy, said:

“There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure but that’s not to say it can’t be managed safely.

“All tradespeople should make sure they know the basics about identifying asbestos. Before carrying out any construction work, there’s a legal requirement to identify whether asbestos is present and could be disturbed.

“Younger tradespeople need to know the dangers behind asbestos as it could affect them in later life like it is affecting older tradespeople now.”

Tradespeople are particularly at risk because they are often the first to discover or disturb ACMs within properties. Asbestos can be found in common building materials, such as Artex, cement boards under eaves, garage roofs, old bath panels, boiler houses and fires, and even mortar between bricks.

Asbestos can be safely managed – it is only dangerous if not maintained in safe condition, or if it is physical disturbed without control measures to limit exposure to fibres.

Craig Evans, UKATA Chief Operating Officer, responded to the HSE campaign:

“I wholeheartedly support HSE’s campaign to raise asbestos awareness and the importance of training across industry.

“The dangers of asbestos are very real, with over 5,000 people in the UK dying each year from asbestos-related diseases.

“It is crucial that tradespeople are aware of the risks involved in disturbing or damaging asbestos-containing materials, as inhaling these fibres can lead to devastating diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.”

ACMs were once extremely common in UK construction and maintenance, especially between 1950s until 1999.

When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. If these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestos related lung cancer, asbestosis, and pleural thickening. These diseases will not affect you immediately as they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.

It can take 20 to 30 years before symptoms appear. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent cough, wheezing, extreme tiredness, pain in your chest or shoulder and in more advanced cases, swollen fingertips.

If asbestos cannot be safely managed, it should be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor. Where present, asbestos should be closely managed by those responsible for the building.

Asbestos & You is aimed at younger tradespeople in particular, as many working today were born after the 1999 ban and may have less awareness of the risks. It seeks to address a common misconception, that asbestos only affects those who worked with it before the ban.

HSE’s chief executive Sarah Albon said:

“Asbestos exposure in Great Britain is still the single greatest cause of work-related deaths. We are committed to protecting people in the workplace and reducing future work-related ill health.

“Everyone working in construction today, of any age, must take the risk from asbestos seriously.”

For more information on asbestos, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like What do I do if one of my staff unexpectedly comes across potential asbestos during my work?

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