Despite various campaigns by the Health & Safety Executive to increase awareness of the risks from asbestos exposure, electricians and plumbers still among highest of developing fatal lung diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. The HSE predict that tradespeople could encounter asbestos 100 times a year and, according to the NHS, asbestos-related death rates amongst tradespeople continue to rise.
Asbestos – the fibres of which latch on to the delicate material in lungs resulting in a thick chalky material known as pleural plaques – is still found in thousands of domestic and non-domestic buildings across the UK. Due to the nature of their trade, electricians and plumbers may regularly drill into materials which contain asbestos, the worst of all being amosite (brown asbestos). The UK was the largest importer of amosite prior to the ban and carpenters would have originally constructed walls with the material, with electricians and plumbers now surpassing the reported lung decease rates over the past 10 years.
Steps that tradespeople can take to reduce exposure to asbestos
- Don’t disturb or break suspect materials – do not break or damage and suspect material if you are in any doubt whatsoever
- Get it tested – there are many companies that offer a mobile asbestos testing service for around £50
- Consider going on an asbestos awareness course – these are operated across the UK and can provide invaluable information
- Look at the report or survey – don’t just take the building owners word for it – insist on seeing the asbestos report, survey or register which should show where asbestos materials are located
- Remember that a management survey doesn’t test hidden asbestos – management surveys only presume materials which cannot be tested. Only a proper demolition survey will ensure the material has been tested. If in doubt, get it tested.
- You can’t work with some types of asbestos – in some cases, you may even be breaking the law if you attempt to move or disturb asbestos
- If in doubt, bail out! – don’t risk exposure to asbestos – it can take just one fibre to lead to ill health
You can find out more on the HSE web pages on asbestos, where there is also a free asbestos web app to help tradespeople identify where they could come into contact with asbestos in their day-to-day work.