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Asbestos: 1.3million at risk?

13 October 2014

Tradespeople, including construction workers, carpenters and painters and decorators, could come into contact with deadly asbestos on average more than 100 times a year according to a new survey commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

As well as illustrating how often tradespeople can be exposed to asbestos, the survey revealed some common myths believed by those at risk, with more than one in seven (14%) believing that drinking a glass of water will help protect them from the deadly dust and one in four (27%) thinking that opening a window will help to keep them safe. 

As part of its new safety campaign, HSE is encouraging all tradespeople to visit a new asbestos safety web app. The free Beware Asbestos web app, for phones, tablets and laptops leads tradespeople through a list of simple multiple-choice questions about the type of building they are working in, the job that they’re doing, and the type of asbestos containing material they are working on.
Depending on their answers, they will be:
  • told to stop work and get a licensed asbestos contractor if the asbestos risk is too high
  • taken to a simple how-to guide giving them easy to follow step-by-step information for lower risk asbestos work
  • told if there is no asbestos risk and so they are safe to continue work.
The HSE campaign will also see 200,000 asbestos safety kits distributed at TradePoint stores across Great Britain. The kits include simple information to help tradespeople identify where they could come into contact with asbestos and how they can stay safe.  They also include a free pair of Type 5 disposable overalls to support safer working with asbestos. 

Every week, 20 tradespeople, on average, die from asbestos related diseases.

 The new survey has revealed that painters and decorators and construction workers are the least confident in their ability to deal with asbestos. Just over half (55%) of construction workers said they know how to protect themselves from the risk and only half of painters and decorators. Carpenters and joiners, and plumbers were more confident on how to protect themselves at 70% and 71% respectively.

Asbestos can be found in walls and ceilings, or the structure of a building, as well as a host of other places like floor tiles, boilers, toilet cisterns, guttering and soffits.
It can be disturbed by basic maintenance work like drilling holes and sanding and once disturbed, the microscopic fibres can prove lethal if breathed in, causing lung disease and cancer.

 Only a third (30%) of all those asked, were able to identify all the correct measures for safe asbestos working, whilst more than half (57%) made at least one potentially lethal mistake in trying to identify how to stay safe.

The research, undertaken by Censuswide in September 2014, shows that while more than half (53%) knew that asbestos could be in old buildings built before 1970, only 15% knew that it could still be found in buildings built up to the year 2000.

And although many of those surveyed could pinpoint some asbestos-containing materials, others were clueless, with only 19% recognising it could also be hidden in common fixtures such as toilet seats and cisterns.

 To encourage tradespeople to think about asbestos on every job so they are prepared to deal with the danger, HSE has launched a new safety campaign. Mark Harper, Minister responsible for Health and Safety, launched the campaign at the TradePoint store in Cricklewood on Wednesday 8 October.

Philip White, HSE’s chief inspector for Construction, said: "Asbestos is still a very real danger and the survey findings suggest that the people who come into contact with it regularly often don’t know where it could be and worryingly don’t know how to deal with it correctly, which could put them in harm’s way. Our new campaign aims to help tradespeople understand some of the simple steps they can take to stay safe. Our new web app is designed for use on a job so workers can easily identify if they are likely to face danger and can then get straight forward advice to help them do the job safely.”

Mark Harper, Minister responsible for Health and Safety, added: "The number dying every year from asbestos related-diseases is unacceptably high. Despite being banned in the construction industry, asbestos exposure remains a very serious risk to tradespeople. This safety campaign is about highlighting the risks and easy measures people can take to protect themselves. We hope the safety kits and the web app will encourage people to be aware of the risks, think twice, and take precautions to stay safe.”
John Gurr, commercial manager for TradePoint, said: "TradePoint is delighted to be involved in this HSE campaign and to be distributing  200,000 asbestos safety kits to tradespeople through our 153 TradePoint counter stores. In addition, we will be encouraging TradePoint members to download the Beware Asbestos web app. The web app and the safety kit help raise awareness of the very real and often unseen risks posed by asbestos to tradespeople. We believe our actions will raise awareness of the threat and help tradespeople to protect themselves against the danger of asbestos."  
To download the web app visit www.beware-asbestos.info/news