High risk of asbestos exposure for UK construction workers

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According to a survey by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), “Nearly one in four UK construction workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres.”

Asbestos has only been banned in the UK since 1999, and the high number of older buildings being demolished or renovated plus the nature of the work they’re involved in, makes the danger for anyone involved in construction very significant.

Are workers in all sectors of construction in danger from asbestos?

Many skilled trades are connected to the construction industry, from demolition and building workers to the plumbers, electricians, and telecoms engineers who are present on-site at different times throughout a construction project.

The extensive reach of asbestos is clear to see, but are all the necessary controls being put in place by construction companies to protect the health of their workers?

Asbestos registers, regular employee training, and asbestos refurbishment and demolition surveys, are just a few of the safeguards that protect employee health, and help to prevent future work-related cancers.

Do construction workers fully understand the risks posed by asbestos?

One of the issues raised by the IOSH research, which surveyed 500 construction workers in the UK, was the lack of awareness of asbestos, and its subsequent danger to health.

Here are some of the most significant findings:

  • Although 59% of those surveyed were aware of asbestos risks and received ongoing training, 15% said they hadn’t been informed of the dangers posed by asbestos
  • 32% of construction workers had never checked an asbestos register prior to a new project commencing, and 15% of these didn’t know that a register existed
  • 18% of respondents said they either didn’t know what to do if they uncovered asbestos at work, or weren’t sure what they should do

These results reveal some major workplace health issues, and highlight the fact that being aware of the dangers of this carcinogenic substance are fundamental to health and safety for construction workers everywhere.

More needs to be done to protect people from asbestos

The President of IOSH, Craig Foyle, commented that greater protection from asbestos is needed, not only for construction workers but also for those in other industries,

“We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them. IOSH has an array of resources designed to assist employers put measures in place which protect their workforce.”

The removal and disposal of asbestos can only legally be carried out by licensed contractors, and if the substance is encountered on-site, it must not be disturbed. If you’re involved in a demolition or refurbishment project and need a survey, or would like more information on asbestos, please contact one of our highly trained asbestos consultants.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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