Wilfully ignoring warnings or simply cutting corners to save time and money?

Raising asbestos awareness to the deadly risks of exposure continues to be as serious an issue today as it was throughout much of the UK’s peak asbestos industry past.

Unfortunately, in yet another frequent instance of repeatedly ignoring the procedures of asbestos management and safe disposal, a contracting company has been brought before the Magistrates Courts in breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

Early in September, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had launched the latest of their “Hidden Killer” Campaigns, to promote and provide a total of 4,000 hours of free asbestos awareness training places for construction trade workers across the UK.

All too often, reports come to light of yet another building firm flouting the very strict regulations and procedures now set in place to correctly deal with the presence of asbestos when uncovered in around a half a million buildings still containing chrysotile white asbestos.

Until all types of asbestos were completely banned by the mid 1980s, the material was still being used as heat insulation and fire retardant in the construction industry, and is often found in a friable ( fragile, disintegrating) condition by building contractors. Any attempt to handle incorrectly can result in the release of the deadly asbestos fibre dust, which is all too easily breathed in and becomes permanently embedded in the lining cavity of the lungs.

It is only after a long latency period of between 15 – 50 years, that the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms will appear. Mesothelioma is an incurable malignant cancer often diagnosed at an advanced stage when the tumours have spread to other body tissues and most victims will die within 6 months.

Despite the long history and repeated awareness training campaigns, contracting firms still choose to put their workforce and others in danger of contracting asbestosis related disease.

At the court hearing in the latest case, an all too familiar story emerged. It was revealed that the contracting company had already been served with a Prohibition Notice ordering all work to stop at the site as attempts to remove the debris from asbestos cement sheeting would likely create asbestos dust and pose a health risk to workers on-site.

Before work could continue, a plan for the proper management by safe containment and removal of the waste materials was required by the company. However, on further inspection by the HSE, it was found that the company had ignored the guidelines set out in their plan. Consequently, the court found them in breach of Regulation 7 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and given a fine and ordered to pay costs, a total of nearly £ 12,000.

According to the HSE, an estimated 4,000 asbestos-related deaths still occur each year, of which, at least 2,000 cases are diagnosed as mesothelioma.