A recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign aimed at improving the way that construction industry workers deal with the presence of asbestos has shown “promising results.”

Small building firms and related tradesmen are often reported in the local press for their persistent lack of asbestos awareness or complete disregard to the potential health risks of exposure whenever they fail to correctly remove the deadly material according to regulations.

The “Beware Asbestos” campaign was launched in October 2014 by HSE in association with marketing company, Tradepoint. For the first time, tradesmen were to be provided with an asbestos safety kit and a mobile app to help tradesmen correctly identify and handle asbestos materials in their everyday work.

More than 188,000 asbestos safety kits were handed out while being promoted at over 150 B&Q stores and the ‘Beware Asbestos’ app was printed on more than one million till receipts as well as 150,000 flyers.

Responded positively

Analysing the results of the six month campaign appears to show the target group had responded positively to the initiative with many tradesmen saying they were working differently because of the way the information was provided.

More than six in ten tradesmen claimed they had opened the campaign kit, the majority saying that it was “useful”, and were already using the information cards. Importantly, nearly eight in ten of those who had opened the kit said their working practices had changed as a result. In addition, more than 42,000 visits were made to the online app to spend an average of 1.5 minutes reading the simplified “how-to” guides.

Interestingly, the use of the app with the “detailed insight” appears to have been more effective with tradesmen. According to HSE, press advertising reached 45 per cent of a target audience of 1.8 million tradespeople, but “appears to have limited impact in terms of behaviour change”.

Target those unaware of the risks

When the app was released, there had been some criticism that “untrained people” might be encouraged to remove asbestos waste materials and a “wrong message” given out to the trade industry. At the time, HSE said the purpose of the campaign was to simply target many of those in trade occupations who are unaware of the risks of unintentionally disturbing asbestos “when they carry out common tasks, such as drilling holes in textured ceilings and replacing old panels around baths.”

In The Great British Asbestos in Buildings Survey 2011, just one in eight tradesmen claimed to have a good working knowledge or qualifications in asbestos, and in a survey carried out by HSE in September 2014, it was found that only three in ten tradesmen were able to identify all the correct measures for working safely with asbestos.

While many of those asked said they could recognise a number of asbestos-containing materials, nearly one in five were unaware that asbestos could be hidden behind many common building fixtures, and within plumbing and heating systems.

More frequently exposed than other tradesmen

According to the HSE, plumbers and heating installers asbestos are more frequently exposed to asbestos than nearly all other tradesman – an average of 140 times per year, or nearly three times a week. It has been estimated that an average of 20 tradesmen – mostly carpenters, electricians and plumbers – will lose their lives every week to mesothelioma or suffer asbestosis diseases due to asbestos exposure.

HSE also suggest that the predicted total of 90,000 cases of diagnosed mesothelioma in Britain between 1970 and 2050 will include around 15,000 employed in the building industry.