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Tradesmen still at risk from asbestos

The frequency of asbestos cases being reported to the Health and Safety Executive demonstrates that adequate measures are still not being taken to protect workers from the risks associated with exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos kills thousands each year

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It is responsible for more than 4,500 deaths each year. 

Asbestos is still present in many buildings and any work likely to disturb the asbestos needs to be positively managed to prevent exposure.

Architects' failure risked workers lives

One example of the failure to effectively manage the removal of asbestos putting tradesmen at risk occurred in Aberystwyth.

Builders working on a rugby club clubhouse were potentially exposed to dangerous asbestos fibres when architects failed to tell them that asbestos insulation board was present in the building. The problem was only picked up when a routine HSE inspection found remains of the damaged asbestos boards on the site.

The rugby club had commissioned an asbestos survey at the start of the project, and this had been passed to the architects who failed to share the information with the building contractors.

The architects firm pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £5,400 and ordered to pay £2,917 in costs.

"Asbestos-related diseases kill more people than any other single work-related cause,” commented HSE Inspector Phil Nicolle. “The danger arises when asbestos fibres become airborne. They form a very fine dust. Breathing asbestos dust can cause serious damage to the lungs and cause cancer."

Hospital trust in court for asbestos failures

In a separate case, contractors installing cables in a hospital in Sunderland were put at risk when it was discovered the door surrounds they were drilling into were made of asbestos insulating board.

The HSE investigation found that the hospital had an asbestos survey that clearly showed there was asbestos in the door surrounds but, despite several site meetings between the Trust and the contractors, no information on the location or condition of any asbestos was given to the contractors.

Releasing asbestos fibres

Asbestos insulating board does not pose a risk to health unless it is damaged or worked on, when asbestos fibres can be released. By drilling into the board the contractors had released these fibres and potentially exposed themselves, hospital staff and members of the public to the risk of contracting an asbestos related disease.

The NHS Trust was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £4,582.40 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (9)(c)(i) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Shuna Rank stressed how important it was for there to be systems in place to ensure that all workers are aware of where asbestos is if their work is likely to bring them into contact with asbestos-containing materials.


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