The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Jewson, the UK’s leading supplier of timber and building materials, have joined forces to help warn tradesmen of the dangers of asbestos.
Jewson’s Wednesbury branch is one of the national network backing HSE’s ‘Asbestos:The Hidden Killer’ campaign to reduce the rising death rate from asbestos-related disease by educating those in the trade about the danger that asbestos presents to them.
Figures issued by the Health and Safety Executive have revealed that every week 20 tradesmen die from asbestos-related diseases and this number is set to increase. Across the West Midlands region the rate is one death every 3 days.
HSE Inspector Nic Rigby said: "We need to educate tradesmen about how asbestos and its dangers are relevant to them. We want them to change the way they work so that they don’t put their lives at risk.
"Research shows that many workers, particularly tradesmen, think that they are not personally at risk of exposure to asbestos and the diseases it can cause. They think that, since asbestos was banned many years ago, the problem has been dealt with and therefore it is not relevant to them. The reality is very different.
"Asbestos presents a real and relevant risk to plumbers, joiners, electricians and many other maintenance workers. Asbestos may be present in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000, and it is estimated that around 500,000 non-domestic buildings could contain asbestos. These buildings all need repair and maintenance work from time to time and when the asbestos fibres are disturbed e.g. by drilling or cutting, they are likely to be inhaled as a deadly dust."
If asbestos-containing material is in good condition and in a position where it cannot be disturbed or damaged, it is safer to leave it where it is and ensure that the risks are managed. Those responsible for managing building maintenance and repair of non-domestic buildings, have a duty to inform tradesmen if asbestos is present in a building they are working in. Depending on the type of asbestos-containing material, and providing they have been trained and the proper controls are in place, they may be able to work on the project. Asbestos sprayed coatings, board or lagging on pipes and boilers – should only be tackled by licensed workers.
Kevin Crawley, Health & Safety Director at Jewson said: "The risk of asbestos exposure has not gone away and regular contact with thousands of people in the trade every day, through a network of 500 branches across the UK, ensures Jewson is ideally placed to help get the message out to those who are likely to come into contact with the material. Asbestos represents a significant danger to those in the construction industry, which is why it is crucial that all those who operate within it are made aware of the associated dangers. We applaud the HSE’s Asbestos:The Hidden Killer campaign and we hope that it goes some way to reduce the number of fatalities that asbestos continues to cause."
HSE’s Nic Rigby explained why a major campaign has been launched to raise awareness of the real risk that tradesmen face, "Exposure to asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths, with around 4,000 people a year dying from asbestos-related disease. The overall number of deaths is rising because a large number of workers who have already been exposed to asbestos dust around 40 years ago will go on to develop mesothelioma, a terminal cancer or other asbestos related diseases."
Annually, 1,000 (25%) of the 4,000 now dying are tradesmen and while the number of deaths in traditional industries has plateaued, deaths in trades continue to rise.
Current HSE posters and radio adverts are designed to encourage tradesmen to get a free asbestos information pack by calling 0845 345 0055 or by visiting www.hse.gov.uk/hiddenkiller for further information. The free information pack provides information on the dangers of asbestos, highlighting where asbestos-containing materials may be present in buildings, what they look like, how they should be dealt with and where to find training.