Asbestos: How to protect yourself

Asbestos: How to protect yourself

Asbestos: How to protect yourselfIf you’re a construction worker and you fall off a ladder then you’re going to know instantly that you’re injured. But if you’re exposed to asbestos on site, you probably won’t realise the damage to your health for many years.

As Simon Clark explains in this new film, it took 35 to 40 years after his apprenticeship for his symptoms to appear.  

Around 5,000 asbestos-related illnesses are reported each year. Even though there are now preventative measures in place to reduce asbestos exposure and, in turn, the number of people affected by it, unfortunately this number is increasing.

Why? The latency period: the fact that an asbestos-related illness can lie dormant for several years without any symptoms.  

Exposure to asbestos can affect the lungs and cause serious illnesses (for example mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and diffuse pleural thickening).

Buildings constructed prior to 2000 almost certainly have asbestos in some shape or form and there is no such thing as ‘safe asbestos’. In the past there was a lack of awareness about the health hazards the material can cause.

Now, thankfully, the industry has stringent preventative measures to reduce exposure. Mandatory training ensures that current and future construction workers are aware of the dangers and how to protect themselves and employers are aware of the regulatory safety requirements.

As employers, in order to keep staff safe from asbestos, you are expected to:

  • Ensure that information about the location of asbestos is made available to the workforce and others who may be affected
  • Provide staff with suitable training, relevant to the level of work being carried out
  • Develop suitable control measures to manage exposure and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where required (for example, helmets, visors, hoods or other forms of respiratory protective equipment)
  • Arrange for medical surveillance, where legislation or policy requires it
  • Provide supervision to make sure the control measures are being used properly.

In turn, employees should:

  • Follow any system of work that the employer has in place
  • Wear their PPE correctly
  • Stop work, keep away and warn others if they think they have discovered asbestos
  • Never assume that all of the asbestos located in a building has been found
  • Attend surveillance, if requested to do so by their as and when employer requires.

Personally, I think company culture is the key to continuing to stamp out asbestos-related illness. A crew I know was working on a refurb in a commercial building when they saw an asbestos removal crew coming in. A member of the refurb crew soon noticed fibres and reported them to the site manager. The crew were immediately told to drop their tools and get off site.

Stories like this show just how important it is to make sure all workers feel empowered.Asbestos awareness, coupled with the self-assurance to stand up and say when something doesn’t seem quite right, really can save lives.

To find out more about asbestos-related illness and how to prevent it please visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

The find out about the CITB CDM Wizard App, to help keep you and your workers safe, please our Construction (Design and Management) Regulations pages. 

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Latest Issue

Asbestos: How to protect yourself
BDC July 2022 issue - 294

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