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Asbestos Safety Training During Coronavirus:
A Significant Increase In Risk

Asbestos training in the construction industry dropped to its lowest during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK Asbestos Training Association has raised concern at this descent/decrease in hopes to avert grave situations.

UKATA expressed great concern over a serious drop in asbestos training in the construction industry during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The construction sites reopened in May; however, the number of asbestos training courses undertaken by their workers has hit the lowest level in five years.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 18,000 workers completed UKATA-approved asbestos training courses on a monthly basis, on average. However, over the last six months (March-August), the number has dropped significantly, a fall of more than 66%, to 6000 workers per month.

An annual estimate of 18000 new cases of self-reported breathing or lung problems that are caused and made worse by work-related activities has been made. Therefore, UKATA approved over 200 member companies and individuals to deliver the ukata asbestos awareness online course either via video conferences, online/offline e-learning videos etc. to help all constructions employers ensure that their workers are up-to-date with the asbestos awareness and instruction level required as per their work status during the pandemic.

A major number of UKATA-approved training providers are offering online h&s courses or observing social distancing guidelines for their face-to-face training courses.

A dramatic increase in the death rate due to asbestos exposure has been seen over the past 15 years. Airborne fibre asbestos cause more than 5000 deaths per year crowning asbestos the largest industrial killer even seen in the UK. Diseases caused by it include:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Abestosis

Looming Crisis in the UK

Health issues caused by asbestos are not identifiable immediately after asbestos exposure. They take 15 – 60 years before presenting a deadly asbestos-related disease.

Due to the cloaking ability of asbestos in the early stages and a serious drop in training numbers, the UK may end up facing a large number of deaths over the next 15 to 60 years. The risk can be reduced if the asbestos training numbers return to pre-COVID levels.

Asbestos was banned in 1999 due to its high levels of toxicity despite being a mere mineral. It can break into microscopically thin fibres and remain airborne for many days after being used.

Asbestos was used for hundreds of years in construction before its ban and can still cause harm to those who might get in contact with it. There are approximately 6M tonnes of Asbestos in the UK, ranging over 1.5M UK buildings, due to which the death rate from asbestos-related diseases grows continuously.

In 2008, UKATA was established to overcome this problem. The not-for-profit association is a leading authority on asbestos training. UKATA has worked tirelessly on raising awareness about the importance and necessity of asbestos training for the construction industry especially.

Legal responsibility and asbestos training

Asbestos refresher training courses are recommended by the HSE to ensure its awareness and knowledge are maintained. As per the asbestos regulations, related training courses for licensable and non-licensable asbestos works should be undertaken on an annual basis at a minimum.

The risk of asbestos can be moderated with the right training course that identifies the potential asbestos hazards in buildings. Asbestos training should be taken by:

  • Electricians
  • Builders
  • Heating and Ventilation Engineers
  • Anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their normal work

Employers must certify their employees’ health and safety, legally, by providing them the correct level of:

  • Training
  • Information
  • Instruction

This ensures the employees’ safety, competence, and an alleviated level of risk to themselves or others.

Self-employed tradespeople in the construction industry are overlooked, at times, and end up with serious health complications. This is because they believe that the asbestos health risk is negligible and might never present itself to them. In reality, a fifth of all asbestos deaths in the UK includes tradespeople, weekly.

The importance of up-to-date training

Craig Evans, the current Chief Operating Officer at UKATA, expressed his concern in an interview in 2020 and stated the it is very important to take the officially recognised asbestos training to promote a safety culture in the construction industry workers. The training is in fact the 1st step for employers to make sure that their employees’ health stays unaffected by the nature of their work.

It is also important to take the training because only after taking it will people understand the boons asbestos bears and can bring about for human life. What’s more horrifying for Craig is the fact that there are videos on youtube that instruct people how they can remove asbestos in a safe manner! In Craig’s viewpoint, these videos are less than adequate to help people ensure their safety and not a reliable alternative to recognised health and safety training courses.

Moreover, if one ends up doing everything the internet says is safe – it will be a mad world. Businesses and especially employers have the foremost duty to protect the ones who come to work for them on a daily routine. Therefore, going for such videos and free courses just to save a few dollars could end up in a legal prosecution and even some time in jail, if it becomes a class action!

An online health and safety training can help businesses stay ahead of such problems, therefore, and also maintain legal evidence by making their employees take an end test after the completion of the course. It is also helpful to opt for online courses because then the employees can choose a time suitable for them and take the training either in pieces or at once. They can, therein, retain information at their pace whilst doing their jobs. It is also a better way to go about things when your crew is spread across the country or if following the SOPs for the classroom training could get expensive for you.

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