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New employee Steven – first impressions of Environmental Inspection and bringing new levels of asbestos awareness to trades

A room in a home that is being prepared for renovation. It has had materials stripped from the walls, floor, and ceiling.

For this month’s blog, we spoke to Trainee Surveyor, Steven about his first few months at Environmental Inspection, how it’s going, and his realisation that there are still lots of practices and beliefs within trades that could be made safer.

Steven Wingate, Trainee Surveyor at Environmental Inspection

What were your previous roles?

After 23 years in the Royal Navy, I became self-employed doing a wide range of property maintenance.

I worked in teams with all of the different trades, alongside specialists (plumbers, electricians, joiners, bricklayers, plasterers, etc).

What can you tell us about asbestos awareness among tradespeople?

It’s nothing like I’ve had since joining Environmental Inspection.

I had done the Construction Skills course – covering a wide range of trades – plumbing, bricklaying, joinery, plastering, and domestic electrical installations. It touched briefly on asbestos in terms of where you might find it. But, participants left without really knowing what asbestos looks like. That can lead to misplaced confidence that a certain material isn’t asbestos, when, in fact, there are lots of different types of asbestos. Not to mention the incorporation of asbestos in other materials.

I also previously did a dedicated asbestos awareness course and it was not much better.

This is something I noticed straight away about Environmental Inspection’s training. You get to see real asbestos, in cases, safely contained. So, you get close up and see what the different types of asbestos are like.

From your experience, how much risk of asbestos exposure is still out there?

It’s quite widespread, unfortunately. Often, people don’t realise that a relatively simple job like moving an electrical socket can cause asbestos exposure. You are going beyond the surface material. If the house is old enough, there are potentially Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) beneath.

Other hazardous activities include the removal of textured coatings. Either the coating itself or the materials beneath could contain asbestos.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the extent of asbestos use in lagging and insulation – loft tanks for example.

What to do if you suspect asbestos

It might be worth recapping what someone should do if they suspect asbestos in a property.

Firstly, stop all work, immediately.

It’s important not to disturb the materials any further. And, not to risk the release of fibres.

Arrange a survey from a qualified asbestos surveyor. Await the results of any samples before returning to the site.

The surveyor and their team will then advise on what to do next. It could be that the samples are all negative for asbestos and you can carry on. In that case, it was worth checking, because you can now confidently carry on – in the areas covered by the survey, anyway. If the analysis comes back positive for asbestos, then, you will be advised on your options. It doesn’t necessarily have to be removed but it does have to be managed.

How much further do we need to go to protect all building site workers?

There must be thousands of people in the UK demolishing materials that they don’t realise contain asbestos. Roofers, for example, removing tiles on 1950s estates. The number of opportunities for exposure to this day is high.

Asbestos safety needs to be more front of mind. It should be built into existing procedures. Like turning off the water before plumbing. ‘Check the age of a property and arrange an asbestos survey if necessary.’ Never leave it until you are looking at a potential Asbestos Containing Material.

Many current awareness courses are not fit for purpose. Half an hour of clicking on a laptop is not going to make you aware of very much.

What does Environmental Inspection’s asbestos awareness training look like?

I’ve done that training now and the wider coverage of what to look out for is incredibly useful.

The experience-based content of the training is great. The types of asbestos and the various uses of each. The red flags to act on. All of these things are illustrated with pictures

Everyone has their own idea of what asbestos is. Maybe you imagine corrugated roofing. But it can be in flat sheets and tiles. Maybe you imagine insulation, but it’s also in cement and bitumen. Not to mention gaskets. Even textiles.

You can have three different boards – one made of plaster, one made of mica (supalux), and one of asbestos (Asbestos Insulating Board – AIB). How confident are most tradespeople in knowing the difference? I suspect not many would know for sure.

What do you most like about your new job?

Learning new skills – how to survey a building thoroughly. Particularly with the mix of sites and scenarios that we encounter. Large industrial sites such as brick works, commercial units, and individual shops and houses. Even historical sites like castles. Or a tailor’s shop from 1910. It’s a great experience.

All of that, combined with being a good and flexible place to work, of course.

The key takeaway

Much of the existing asbestos awareness training doesn’t make you very aware. We are working on changing that.

If you’d like to know more about our training, view asbestos awareness training.

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