Tradespeople are on the front line when it comes to managing the asbestos risk. Asbestos in all its forms can be hazardous to human health. It can cause a very unpleasant illness and lead to early death.
In our experience, alert tradespeople are often the last line of defence – calling us in at the last moment to avert the catastrophe of damaging asbestos during building work.
On the other hand, tradespeople without the requisite knowledge can unleash major harm by, for example, knocking through walls or ceilings, demolishing, or drilling into asbestos containing materials. That would be the worst-case scenario, since it is likely to release asbestos fibres into the air – a real and immediate threat to the health of workers and the public.
What should tradespeople do to keep themselves safe from asbestos exposure?
These are the minimum precautions that tradespeople should take to keep themselves safe from hazards associated with asbestos.
- Always ask to see the asbestos survey when working on premises built before 1999.
- Check that it is the correct kind of survey. An Asbestos Management Survey is a legal requirement for buildings built before 1999 and will cover the accessible areas of a building only. It will detail any known asbestos. An Asbestos Demolition Survey or Refurbishment Survey is bespoke to a particular job and should cover the areas in which you will work. If there are any materials to be stripped back or removed, then such a survey should have included intrusive sampling and testing of those materials. That way, you can be confident that you are not disturbing any asbestos.
- Check that it covers all the areas in which you will work. Check that it has been done in sufficient depth. Do you know what is behind any materials that you are damaging or removing?
- Seek advice from a qualified and competent asbestos consultant if there is anything you are unsure about or causes you concern.
- Get trained in asbestos awareness. The intention is not that you become an asbestos expert but that you know enough to follow the correct procedures, ensure that clients and contractors respect your safety, and identify any potential hazards that need to be investigated.
We would always be happy to advise on your next steps in a situation that might involve asbestos.
Our asbestos awareness training is detailed on the asbestos awareness training page.
Who should get asbestos awareness training?
Asbestos awareness training is beneficial to anyone who has the potential to damage or disturb asbestos. This means all of the building trades including:
- Painters and decorators
- Kitchen and bathroom fitters
- Plumbers and heating engineers
- Carpet layers
What should employers and contractors do to ensure safety from asbestos?
Like any Health & Safety issue, the responsibility is shared by several parties (client, contractor, employer, and worker) but there are things that the main contractor and / or employer will be expected to do. These will be investigated should an incident occur.
- Ensure the correct asbestos survey is done before any work commences.
- Employ qualified and competent people for any given job.
- Seek expert advice when needed.
- Train people in asbestos awareness if they will be making decisions that could affect an asbestos health and safety hazard.
- Monitor the risk posed by any known asbestos. Act if the risk changes e.g. if new areas of a building come into use or the condition of known asbestos changes.
Why should contractors and employers take care of the asbestos risk?
Protecting workers and the public is everyone’s responsibility in a business. But, where you are the one who will be held legally accountable, it is in your interests to take the reasonable precautions that are easily available by consulting with experts.
By keeping your work environments safe, you will safeguard the public. And, you will prevent damage to your reputation. A prosecution initiated by the Health and Safety Executive is a newsworthy issue and any business would struggle to recover from the damage.
What effect will this have on a project?
If you plan asbestos safety into your routine work, then it does not have to be disruptive.
If there is any doubt, let us get in there and make certain, before a single tool is used to disturb anything. It’s not a case of will it affect the job? It may save your life!
If there is no asbestos, then that’s good to know. It lets you focus on the job in hand. If there is asbestos, then we can reassure you of its current state and advise on your options for remaining safe.
Asbestos doesn’t always have to be removed – it could be avoided or made safe if working in the immediate area. Or we can organise its removal. The exact solution will depend on a range of factors, so it is worth having expertise on your side.
Need more information?
The Health and Safety Executive publishes a range of guides to asbestos safety specifically for tradespeople.
The above link provides documents including:
- Asbestos Essentials: A task manual for building, maintenance and allied trades of non-licensed asbestos work.
- Managing and working with asbestos: Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Approved Code of Practice and guidance.
- Respiratory protective equipment at work: A practical guide.
- Managing asbestos in buildings: A brief guide.
Environmental Inspection can also provide asbestos awareness training to tradespeople, to help them understand the risks. Contact us for any asbestos-related advice.