Although asbestos was only banned in the UK in 2000, many people believe that it is no longer an issue and that the dangers of asbestos no longer exist. Unfortunately this is not the case and over 10 years after prohibition, asbestos is still making headlines in the UK.
Those affected by asbestos related illnesses such as asbestosis, pleural thickening or the terminal cancer, mesothelioma, have spent years trying to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and called for harsher punishments of those who fail to adhere to the regulations put in place to protect workers.
It is not just campaigners who hope to have the UK’s asbestos regulations reviewed. The European Commission has requested that the UK change its asbestos laws, making the safety regulations tighter. It has been said that current UK Legislation does not fully comply with the EU asbestos Directive.
The changes are concerned with maintenance and repair work. The UK currently allows exemption from three obligations in the asbestos Directive for work that involves ‘only sporadic and low-intensity exposure to asbestos’. The obligations are:
- To notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcement body
- For employers to carry out routine health assessments of employees
- For employers to maintain a register for each employee recording details of the work carried out with asbestos
The European Commission is of the view that the UK’s exemption does not give sufficient focus as to how asbestos materials can be affected by work.
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary said; “European regulations are there to protect workers and governments should see them as being minimum standards rather than trying to weasel out of their commitments.”
Unfortunately, despite laws being put in place to prevent exposure to asbestos and keep workers safe, companies are still not complying with regulations.
Last week it was reported that a building firm had been fined £20,000 for incorrect disposal of asbestos waste.
The incident happened when a 96 year old woman was having renovation work carried out on her home. A bath in the property was being removed to make way for a walk in shower unit.
During the renovation works, asbestos insulating boards were found. They had been used to box in pipe work in the bathroom. The removal of such boards should be completed by licensed contractors as the asbestos materials can often be brittle and crumbly. The company carrying out the works did not hold a licence for working with asbestos and wrongly, continued the job of removing the asbestos boards.
The removed asbestos materials were not sealed or wrapped and a standard vacuum cleaner was used for the clean up instead of a specialist machine. The workers were not wearing protective clothing or breathing equipment. It was not until a warden at the housing complex saw what was being done and raised an alarm that a proper clean up of the asbestos materials was carried out.
With the dangers of asbestos being known, there is no excuse for this kind of incident to occur, it is simply a case of companies putting profit before people. Now, all of those involved in the works and anyone who entered the property whilst work was carried out face an uncertain future, worrying whether in years to come they will suffer with pleural thickening, asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer or mesothelioma.
In a bid to try and prevent people from being exposed to asbestos the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and South Yorkshire & Humber Working Well Together Group are offering courses, giving businesses the chance to learn how to recognise and deal with asbestos. The courses aim to give vital knowledge of what asbestos is, the various forms it can come in and what to do if asbestos is found.
Construction workers’ union, UCATT have given clear advice with regards to asbestos. Alan Ritchie, UCATT general secretary says; “If you are not a specialist, do not work with asbestos. If at any point you think you are working with asbestos, stop work immediately and get it checked out.”