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The Persistent Problem of Asbestos

Once again, the persistent problem of asbestos is being highlighted in the media. Although the manufacture and working with asbestos and its products have been banned for 30 years in the UK, as well as many other countries in the world, there are developing countries, such as Russia, India and China, who have become prominent in recent years for the increasing level of their asbestos exports.Unfortunately, in the UK, still to this day, trade workers may be called to work in premises or environments containing hidden and dangerously deteriorating asbestos in the fabric of the building. The material is still considered the UK's biggest killer in the workplace, especially schools and former premises where asbestos was used for producing building products such as insulating ceiling tiles.The construction industry widely used asbestos in numerous building materials before 1980, because it was both a cheap material and possessed excellent insulating properties. Many manufacturers of fibreglass insulating tiles and ceiling tiles often knew of the hazards of asbestos exposure but did not inform their workforce. This is borne out by the HSE, who consistently hear from older workers that they were never told about the risks of working with asbestos!Even today lack of awareness can have fatal consequences. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), around 25% of the 4,000 who die from asbestos-related diseases each in Britain year - approx. 20 per week - are tradesmen such as joiners, electricians and plumbers.Often, tradesmen in particular, think that asbestos is a problem belonging to the past but there is always present a real risk facing plumbers, joiners, electricians, painters and decorators and many other maintenance workers. Asbestos may be present in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000, and it is estimated that around 500,000 workplace premises could contain asbestos.Sprayed coatings was probably the most lethal way in which asbestos was used. It was common for many sprayed asbestos products to contain up to 85% asbestos. Between 1935 and 1971, it was used extensively in public buildings for acoustic and thermal insulation and fire protection of structural steel work. It was commonly used in system-built council housing for boiler houses and ceilings, balconies and walkways.If tradesmen are not sure whether there is asbestos present where they are working they should stop and check. If repair and maintenance work is not done safely it can lead to asbestos fibres being released into the air by drilling or cutting, and workers breathing them in.Having an awareness of asbestos is still vital and forms an important part of Health & Safety knowledge within the trade industries.Students beginning their skills training on the City & Guilds Plumbing NVQ 6129 Level 2 course will learn about the dangers of asbestos, gaining knowledge in identifying all the different types of asbestos material and where they may be found in variety of building constructions. In particular, how to correctly deal with an unexpected discovery of hidden asbestos and the immediate actions that must be taken for its immediate safe disposal by approved and certificated authorities.