Asbestos risk management: identification, monitoring and removal
Asbestos may have been long since banned in the construction of new buildings but exposure to this hazardous material is still a very real risk for many working in the industry. Recent research conducted by the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) identified almost one in four construction workers believe they have been exposed to asbestos. The IOSH No Time to Lose campaign highlights the risks of occupational cancers to workers, with the most recent phase focusing on asbestos.
Almost a third (32%) of respondents to the survey still say they are not checking the asbestos register. Increasing amounts of work have been undertaken by organisations to ensure those they engage to work on their behalf provide documentation, risk and method statements (RAMS), and outline safe processes in advance. Inductions are becoming more common and there are more robust systems in place to warn anyone working on site what the hazards may be.
However, is this information being properly considered sufficiently early? It can be extremely difficult to get information in advance from some property owners. Obtaining information early means it can be used to potentially alter an approach to work, be properly incorporated into RAMs and considered by project managers before workers actually go to a new site.
In many cases, it is not until the induction when hazards are explained and those attending may not be in a position to make the changes needed to the approach to prevent potential exposure.
By knowing about asbestos in advance, the work plan can potentially be altered: rather than drilling, surface mounting can be used, or an entirely different work method considered.
Where work is subcontracted, obtaining information in advance can be more difficult when the contractor doesn’t have direct access to the person holding it. Even if workers know it should be considered, their focus on providing a good service and getting the work done becomes a stronger urge than checking available information.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, anyone who may come into contact with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) should undertake asbestos awareness training. Many workers undertake this training via e-learning, which can be a useful tool, but it is important for supervisors and businesses to talk about it and reinforce what they know even if they have been through it many times before.
It is important everyone knows the right emergency response to take if damage to ACMs is suspected:
- Stop work immediately.
- If it is safe to do so, take a photo of the material.
- If there is a chance clothing may be contaminated with dust, leave it in the area.
- Leave the area where the potential exposure occurred but stay close by – if it’s on soles of shoes, contamination can spread to other areas.
- Call for assistance and make sure the area is labelled and locked off.
- Request sampling and further advice from an asbestos consultant.
- If material has been disturbed, work must not continue without confirmation the air is clear and a plan for dealing with the damage safely.
All potential accidental damage should be treated as a near miss and investigated internally to determine why it has occurred. Individuals should visit their GP if they have concerns.
To read the full article featured in Planning and Building Control Today please click here
For more from Louise on Asbestos risk management in schools as featured in Planning and Building Control click here
Louise Hosking is Director of Hosking Associates and IOSH VP