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Asbestos training at five year low

15 October 2020

WITH THOUSANDS of public buildings and offices now re-open following lockdown, the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has raised concerns about their safety following the lack of asbestos training that has been undertaken since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Craig Evans, chief operating officer of UKATA, explained, “Our concern is that the fabric of the many workplaces and public buildings that have been closed during the Covid-19 outbreak, will have declined. The very people who manage the buildings may have been furloughed and therefore they will not have been inspected for deterioration of any asbestos present. This increases the risk of exposure to deadly asbestos fibres for the buildings’ users.” 

Duty to manage training is a legal requirement, however industry figures show the number of workers who have undertaken asbestos training since March has steeply declined and is at its lowest level for five years, prompting UKATA to speak out.

Prior to the Corona crisis an average of 18,000 workers a month completed asbestos training. Over the last six months (March – August), an average of 6,000 workers a month undertook asbestos training delivered by UKATA-approved training providers, a decrease of more than 66%. 

Asbestos-related health issues, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma are not identified immediately after exposure to asbestos. It takes between 15 years and up to 60 years, before deadly asbestos-related diseases present themselves. 

Craig added: “The latency period of asbestos, coupled with a substantial drop in training numbers, could mean that the UK will be facing a greater amount of deaths from asbestos over the next 15 – 60 years. To reduce this risk, it is important that delivery of asbestos training returns to pre-Covid levels.”

Deaths from asbestos exposure are reaching their peak after widespread use between 1950s and 70s. Since 2018, there have been more than 5,000 deaths annually in the UK from asbestos-related cancers – making it the largest single industrial killer ever seen in the UK.

The HSE recommends that asbestos refresher training courses should be undertaken to help ensure knowledge of asbestos awareness is maintained. The asbestos regulations also make it clear that asbestos training for non-licensable and licensable asbestos works should be carried out at least annually.

Craig Evans added, “It is now vitally important that all building managers and appointed persons ensure that their asbestos training is up-to-date. These are difficult times, but this is a matter of life or death.”

To ensure asbestos training continues to be accessible during the pandemic, back in April, UKATA approved its 200-member companies and individuals to deliver asbestos courses by video conference technology.

The majority of UKATA-approved training providers are now fully operational and either delivering courses remotely online or face-to-face observing social distancing guidelines.