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1.3 million tradespeople at risk from dangers of asbestos

Date:
9 October 2014

Health and Safety Executive launches new safety campaign as an average of 20 tradespeople die every week from asbestos related diseases

Tradespeople, including construction workers, carpenters and painters and decorators, could come into contact with deadly asbestos on average more than 100 times a year* according to a new survey commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)**. 

As well as illustrating how often tradespeople can be exposed to asbestos, the survey revealed some common myths believed by those at risk, with 1 in seven (14 per cent) believing that drinking a glass of water will help protect them from the deadly dust and one in four (27 per cent) thinking that opening a window will help to keep them safe.

Only a third (30 per cent) of those asked, were able to identify all the correct measures for safe asbestos working, whilst more than half (57 per cent) made at least one potentially lethal mistake in trying to identify how to stay safe. 

Twenty tradespeople, on average, die every week from asbestos related diseases.  

Asbestos can be found in walls and ceilings, or the structure of a building, as well as a host of other places like floor tiles, boilers, toilet cisterns, guttering and soffits.

It can be disturbed by basic maintenance work like drilling holes and sanding and once disturbed, the microscopic fibres can prove lethal if breathed in, causing lung disease and cancer.

The research, undertaken by Censuswide in September 2014, shows that while more than half (53 per cent) knew that asbestos could be in old buildings built before 1970, only 15 per cent knew that it could still be found in buildings built up to the year 2000.

And although many of those surveyed could pinpoint some asbestos-containing materials, others were clueless, with only 19 per cent recognising it could also be hidden in common fixtures such as toilet seats and cisterns.

To encourage tradespeople to think about asbestos on every job so they are prepared to deal with the danger, HSE has launched a new safety campaign. Mark Harper, Minister responsible for Health and Safety, launched the campaign at the TradePoint store in Cricklewood. TradePoint is supporting the campaign by distributing asbestos safety kits to tradespeople through their stores across Great Britain.

A key feature of the campaign is the creation of a new web app for phones, tablets and laptops that helps tradespeople easily identify where they could come into contact with the deadly material as they go about their day-to-day work and gives them tailored help on how to deal with the risks.

Mark Harper, Minister responsible for Health and Safety, said:

“The number dying every year from asbestos related-diseases is unacceptably high. Despite being banned in the construction industry, asbestos exposure remains a very serious risk to tradespeople. This safety campaign is about highlighting the risks and easy measures people can take to protect themselves. We hope the safety kits and the web app will encourage people to be aware of the risks, think twice, and take precautions to stay safe.”

Philip White, HSE’s Chief Inspector for Construction, said:

“Asbestos is still a very real danger and the survey findings suggest that the people who come into contact with it regularly often don’t know where it could be and worryingly don’t know how to deal with it correctly, which could put them in harm’s way. Our new campaign aims to help tradespeople understand some of the simple steps they can take to stay safe. Our new web app is designed for use on a job so workers can easily identify if they are likely to face danger and can then get straight forward advice to help them do the job safely.”

Former electrical consultant Simon Clark, who in 2012 was diagnosed with mesothelioma – the life-threatening and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos – when he was just 52, said:

“When I was younger I didn’t think of the dangers of asbestos and I must have been exposed to it frequently. Since being diagnosed, I’ve had to give up my work and let some of my employees go – which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is vitally important that everybody knows when they might be exposed and takes the correct steps to protect themselves.”

To download the web app please visit www.beware-asbestos.info/news

For more information on asbestos safety please visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos

Notes to Editors:

* Survey results revealed that tradespeople work an average of 2.29 days a week in buildings built before 2000 (i.e. buildings that could potentially contain asbestos). This is then taken and multiplied by 48 (52 weeks per year minus an estimated 4 weeks non-working time) to produce an annual figure

** The statistics in this press release are based on the results of a survey of 500 tradespeople in Great Britain carried out by Censuswide in September 2014.

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Twenty tradespeople, on average, die every week from asbestos related diseases. Weekly deaths attributed to past asbestos exposure in building maintenance trades are estimated based on the proportion of mesotheliomas where such jobs were mentioned on the death certificate.
  3. HSE estimates that 1.3 million tradespeople are potentially at risk of being exposed to asbestos. This is based on current estimates of employment in Great Britain in construction-related occupations which are most likely to involve coming into contact with asbestos. Figures are taken from the Annual Population Survey.
  4. HSE has launched a new campaign to help tradespeople work more safely with asbestos and protect themselves from danger.
  5. The campaign is made up of the following:
  • Free asbestos safety kits distributed through TradePoint stores from 29 September 2014
  • A free web app that helps people work more safely with asbestos to support behaviour change
  • National press advertising to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and drive use of the free web app from November
  • Promotion of key messages through commercial organisations that interact regularly with our target audience
  • Delivering messages through stakeholders

Further HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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