Asbestos awareness – are you meeting your obligations?
There is an argument to be made that every employee should have some form of basic Asbestos Awareness training. There are so many stories which ultimately highlight this need, that Bob Bridge, Director of The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) and Chair of Standards explains what employers need to do in order to meet their legal obligations.
Every employer must make sure that anyone who is liable to disturb asbestos during their normal work, or who supervises those employees, gets the correct level of information, instruction and training so that they can work safely and competently without risk to themselves or others.
Given I was almost certainly exposed to asbestos myself in my former career, since then, I decided to make it my mission to inform as many people as possible of the facts, so that they can avoid the likely exposure levels I had to endure along with my colleagues all those years ago.
I am not a jobsworth by any stretch of the imagination, yet people are still being exposed to unnecessary and totally avoidable risks on a daily basis when it comes to asbestos and that’s why I am so passionate about asbestos awareness. Once employers know their obligations, they can make the necessary decisions, but a complete lack of awareness of the risks in this day and age is totally unforgiveable.
With over 5,000 people a year still dying of asbestos-related illnesses, we still have a huge amount of work to do. Can you imagine if all the footballers in the Premier League were dying of a hidden disease at a rate of 20 players per week? The country’s elite pool of footballers would be wiped out over a three month period. The only difference is that the tradespeople and construction workers who are dying at this alarming rate do not earn the huge salaries of the Premier League footballer and their families in many cases are left financially high and dry, not to mention the emotional devastation caused by the death of a family member.
Workers and supervisors must be able to recognise asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and know what to do if they come across them in order to protect themselves and others. At the heart of this is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Approved Code of Practice (ACoP).
Published by the HSE, the ACoP contains the regulations, ACoP guidance text for employers, setting out the legal duties for employers and practical advice on how to comply with those requirements and give the minimum standards for protecting employees from risks associated with exposure to asbestos.
There are three main levels of information, instruction and training. These relate to:
- Asbestos awareness
- Non-licensable work with asbestos including NNLW
- Licensable work with asbestos.
Attending a training course on its own will not make a worker competent. Competence is developed over time by implementing and consolidating skills learnt during training, on-the-job learning, instruction and assessment. This is also reflected in the latest changes to the Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations that came into effect on 6 April 2015.
Information, instruction and training for asbestos awareness is intended to give workers and supervisors the information they need to avoid work that may disturb asbestos during normal work which could penetrate the fabric of a building. It will not prepare workers, or self-employed contractors to carry out work with asbestos-containing materials. If a worker is planning (or expected) to carry out work that will disturb ACMs, further information, instruction and training will be necessary.
Examples of those affected include everyone from general maintenance workers, to electricians, plumbers, joiners, painters and decorators, and plasterers. Construction workers can often come into contact with asbestos, as can roofers, shop fitters, gas fitters, heating and ventilation engineers and demolition workers. This is not an exhaustive list and there will be other occupations where asbestos may be disturbed, while it is well worth architects and building surveyors having a full awareness of the issues and dangers posed by asbestos, as in some cases, they are a worker’s first line of defence in identifying potential risks before they are encountered.
Information, instruction and training about asbestos awareness should cover:
- the properties of asbestos and its effects on health, including the increased risk of developing lung cancer for asbestos workers who smoke;
- the types, uses and likely occurrence of asbestos and asbestos materials in buildings and plant;
- the general procedures to deal with an emergency, eg: an uncontrolled release of asbestos dust into the workplace; and
- how to avoid the risk of exposure to asbestos.
Online learning (often referred to as e–learning) is increasingly used as a method of providing asbestos awareness training. The HSE and UKATA recognise the use of e-learning as a viable delivery method, among others, for asbestos awareness training; provided it satisfies the requirements of Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the supporting Approved Code of Practice L143 ‘Managing and working with asbestos’.
Workers who plan to carry out work that will disturb asbestos require a higher level of information, instruction and training, in addition to asbestos awareness. This should take account of whether the work is non-licensed; notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW); or licensed work and should be job specific.
There is now an accepted recognition that all too often in the past, training alone has been seen as proof of competence, so the term ‘competence’ has been removed from CDM 2015 and replaced with a focus on the component parts – skills, knowledge, training and experience.
Employers have a duty to ensure their staff have these four pillars of competence and in terms of asbestos, they have never been more important. There are so many stories which ultimately highlight the need for asbestos awareness. With the new CDM in place and no ‘grace period’, those working on construction projects and indeed designers will need to accept more responsibility for safety, which in turn must mean a greater understanding of their legal position where asbestos is concerned.
I and many of my colleagues have encountered a certain degree of complacency in the past from architects and others and the new CDM should at least have some of these key people thinking more about asbestos. The hope must be that, as mentioned above, it will lead for more Asbestos Awareness training for architects, building surveyors, managers and estimators.
It is important that the level of information, instruction and training is appropriate for the work and the roles undertaken by each worker (and supervisor). Using a training needs analysis (TNA) will help to identify what topics should be covered to ensure workers have the right level of competence to avoid putting themselves or others at risk.
Our work is not even 50 per cent done
Over half of the people who should be trained in asbestos awareness are probably not. And tradespeople who work in asbestos filled environments every day without awareness training are undoubtedly and inadvertently putting themselves at risk, just as I did back in the 1980s. That is a compelling reason for us all to get out of bed with a spring in our step every morning and not lose our focus on making sure we get as close to 100 per cent asbestos awareness as possible.
UKATA set the standards in asbestos training and ensures that its members meet those standards.
Bob Bridge is director of The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) and Chair of Standards
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