Asbestos removal industry told to protect workers

More needs to be done to stop illness and death among workers, the asbestos removal industry has been told by the Health and Safety Executive.

Around 600 people die each year from lung cancer caused by working with asbestos in the construction industry and allied trades, with the annual death count expected to rise until 2011, says the HSE. Work with asbestos remains the single occupation most likely to cause fatal disease.

The HSE is holding a series of summits with asbestos removal licence holders across Britain, after an assessment found that there was room for improvement in protecting workers’ health, despite the industry collectively making “significant progress” in recent years.

Licence holders from London and the South East met with HSE representatives on Tuesday in the second of a series of twelve summits across the country aimed at raising health and safety standards.

Mike Williams, Asbestos Licensing Principal Inspector in HSE’s Field Operations Directorate said: “We are determined to work with the industry, and our objective is to convince them that higher standards to protect health are achievable and needed.”

“We will explore how individual licence holders can make those necessary improvements and hence reduce the number of deaths from asbestos-related diseases.”

To this end, the HSE summits will attempt to address problems such as insufficient management responsibility, poor organisation, and complacency.

The total number of asbestos-related deaths is as high as 3000 per year, but many of these are caused by past heavy exposure to asbestos in industries such as shipbuilding or railway engineering.

The highest risk now falls on asbestos removal workers and those involved in the refurbishment, repair or maintenance of buildings – plumbers, carpenters and electricians – the HSE says.

Asbestos was used extensively in construction from the 1950s up until the mid 1980s. Many thousands of tonnes of asbestos remain in buildings across Britain, with over half a million non-domestic buildings still estimated to contain asbestos at present.

By Goska Romanowicz

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