Construction Health and Safety Consultancy and CDM Adviser Services

The Horrifying Reality Of Asbestos Exposure
Posted by David Cant on September 4, 2014

Who is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

asbestos warning signAccording to the HSE’s own statistics, 13 people die every single day as a result of exposure to asbestos.

In fact statistics indicate that considerably more people are dying today from asbestos related diseases than thirty years ago, despite highly public campaigns to draw people’s attention to the risks.

Those within the building and development industry should be aware more than anyone else of the risks, and of the likely scenarios where those risks may be faced. Yet with worrying regularity we see reports of people being hauled before the courts to answer for their apparent wilful neglect or downright ignorance regarding asbestos exposure, putting people’s lives very much at risk.

Think of that number again: thirteen lives lost every single day of the year, utterly needlessly, with families left devastated.

Stoke-on-Trent Brothers Wilfully Put Workers At Risk

In the last week two brothers in Stoke-on-Trent have been given prison sentences by Stafford Crown Court after it was discovered that they had been exposing  at least seven workers, including one aged 17, to asbestos without any protective equipment, clothing or training.

Neither brother was qualified or experienced in any type of construction , demolition or refurbishment work and they had no license, nor any application for a license, to remove asbestos.

It was noted in the case that the work was carried out over a period longer than 30 days, which requires a Construction, Design and Management Co-ordinator (CDM) to be in place, but this had not been arranged either. It transpired that the brothers had received several warnings and site visits, but they chose to ignore these.

Despite a prohibition notice being posted at the site work continued to take place, with continued disturbance of asbestos, putting the health and lives of all nearby workers at serious risk.

NHS Puts Lives At Asbestos Risk For Over A Decade

You would expect that an organisation with the word ‘Health’ in its name, and which is designed to help improve people’s health and well-being would ensure that people were not put at grave risk by being exposed to asbestos dust.

Unfortunately in the case of Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust this wasn’t the case for over ten years, during which time buildings at Watford General Hospital, Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans Hospital were refurbished and maintained without any thought to the possible risk of exposure to asbestos. It was only when surveys were carried out in December 2011 that it was realised that asbestos was present at all three locations.

Although the Trust did take immediate measures to control the risks this was after an enormously extended period of time during which hundreds of workers had been exposed to the dust. As a result the Trust was fined £55,000 with £34,078 in costs.

The Facts About Asbestos Risk

Asbestos itself isn’t dangerous. What is extremely dangerous is the dust created when asbestos is broken or damaged. The fact that the material crumbles fairly easily when damaged means that even very slight damage or movement can result in airborne dust being inhaled. Once inhaled the fibres can cause a range of very serious diseases, most of which can be fatal.

Airborne asbestos fibres are extremely small, and cannot be seen. They also have no odour, which means you may have no idea you’re even breathing in the fibres. The effects of breathing asbestos dust can take many years to show up.

Asbestos was banned as a building and construction material from 2000, which means that any property built prior to the year 2000 may very well include asbestos in its construction.

Who Is At Risk Of Asbestos Exposure?

It’s too easy to think that it’s only those who work in construction or demolition who are at risk. It’s also easy to assume that if you are a sub-contractor or worker that the people in charge have had the necessary surveys carried out and have put safety controls in place. If working in any unfamiliar site it is important to be aware of the potential risks.

The HSE has drawn up a list of those people most likely to become exposed to asbestos dust in their day-to-day work. This includes:

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Construction workers
  • Fire and burglar alarm installers
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Computer installers
  • General maintenance staff, e.g. caretakers
  • Telecommunications engineers
  • Building surveyors
  • Cable layers
  • Electricians

This list isn’t exhaustive of course, and there is also the risk to the public which can occur when building or construction work is carried out which creates asbestos dust that isn’t controlled or contained.

If you feel that you may be at risk and would like to discuss your concerns, or you are in charge of construction, demolition or refurbishment and would like to arrange for a Construction, Design and Management Co-ordinator (CDM) to be assigned to the project, please contact Veritas Consulting on 0121 702 1425, and one of our expert health and safety consultants will be happy to help.


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Asbestos Surveys, Health and Safety Consultancy, Workplace Health and Safety

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