The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have frequently initiated asbestos awareness campaigns aimed at helping specific industries who are most likely to come into regular contact with the deadly material to better understand the required procedures for its correct, safe handling and disposal.

A new initiative, which once again will send out a warning about the serious health risks of working with asbestos, is currently being discussed between the HSE and the Government.

Following on from their ‘Hidden Killer’ campaign, first launched in 2008, the HSE is now seeking to widen the campaign’s scope by calling upon other organisations and agencies to become involved and partner with HSE in accordance with a set brief.

Despite of the many initiatives, far too many building contractors and premises owners still neglect to conduct proper management surveys or fail to recognise and consequently, mishandle asbestos material on building / demolition sites.

According to the HSE, half a million properties around the UK, constructed or renovated up until at least the 1980s, still contain hidden quantities of mainly white chrysotile asbestos building material and every week an average of 20 tradesmen – mostly carpenters, electricians and plumbers – will die from mesothelioma or other asbestosis diseases.

The latest example of negligence by contractors to carry out the necessary procedures recently came to light at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, when a demolition firm was fined a total of £45,159 including costs, for failing to properly plan their work, which was being carried out close-by to a school near Wimbledon Chase tube station.

Concerns over an ‘unsecured’ building site had first been raised by local residents who claimed to witness asbestos materials being broken up and left scattered around the site. In addition, debris was seen to be dropped from height onto the road and footpath. It was only after the HSE had served three enforcement notices regarding ‘unsafe practices’ that the site was finally closed for changes in procedures to take place.

Despite white asbestos being considered a ‘low risk material’ if left undisturbed it is still classified as a Class 1 carcinogen. Handling can release fibre dust into the surrounding atmosphere and once breathed in, the fibres remain embedded within the linings of the lungs or stomach. A long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years often elapses from first exposure to subsequent appearance of asbestosis symptoms.

In April 2012, the HSE published a straightforward, asbestos “Essentials’ guide to help all individuals, from company employers, the self employed to part time contract workers, premises owners and duty holders to comply with the Asbestos Regulations.

According to the HSE, more than 1.8 million people are exposed to asbestos every year and over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed.