They’re pretty hot on asbestos training at TMJ, where we work on joinery for new builds and refurbs. Asbestos can be anywhere and everywhere. It’s worrying but it’s better to know than not know.
You think it’s all sorted out before you get to site but you just can’t take other people’s word for it. You need to know for yourself what it is and where it is. Everyone in the construction industry, even contract cleaners at the end of the job, should know the dangers.
I went on an awareness training course and discovered there are a lot of things that asbestos was put into, things I didn’t know about. Things like vinyl floor tiles and ceiling tiles. Even trims on office staircases can have asbestos in the concrete.
Now I’m on my guard, not so much worried as aware of where asbestos could be.
Earning business from the ‘big boys’
Good training goes towards keeping work coming from main contractors. I’d recommend asbestos training to other small and medium-sized companies because it’ll win you jobs with the big boys rather than some fly-by-night companies.
On one site I’m on they found asbestos tiles on the floor, so stopped the job. The main contractor got the asbestos people in and tented it off. They did an air test before everyone went back to work. That sort of safety procedure gives you confidence on site.
Playing fair, feeling valued
Apart from helping business, asbestos training is just the right thing to do. I have four children. I don’t want to die and leave my family behind.
It’s good for your team to know what they’re working with. You shouldn’t be sent out to work with stuff that could shorten your life.
I’ve worked in construction for 16 years and safety training shows the company is interested in my wellbeing – and that makes me feel valued.
Top tips for working with asbestos
Alison Rodgers is the Principal Lecturer in Health and Safety Training at the National Construction College. She agrees that asbestos is not something to ignore or to be ignorant about.
Alison's top three tips for businesses are:
1. If you don't know whether it is asbestos or not, work on the assumption that it is
Nothing built after 2000 should have asbestos because it was banned outright in 1999 - But there’s always a possibility material could have been used unlawfully so it’s best practice to check.
2. There’s no such thing as ‘safe’ asbestos
Beware of myths about blue and white asbestos. In one training film a woman says she was told white asbestos was safer than blue. It’s not. It’s all deadly and she died of a cancer that hardens the lungs called mesothelioma.
3. Asbestos isn’t only an issue during refurbs
You don’t have to be knocking down walls to encounter asbestos. Anything from going into an old boiler room to installing a fire or burglar alarm could put you at risk. Or you may be exposed crawling around in roof spaces converting a loft or installing solar panels.
*Alison runs a UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) accredited half-day awareness course for anyone working in construction.