The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new web application designed to detect asbestos in buildings undergoing refurbishment or demolition.
Electricians, plumbers and builders are being encouraged to download and use the app before and after working on older premises in which the hazardous material may still be present.
Fatal Mesothelioma and Asbestosis
Asbestos was once commonly used in the building trade for its fire-retardant and insulation properties. However, inhalation of the fibres often disturbed during renovations is understood to cause fatal conditions such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999-2000.
According the HSE, workers around Bristol encounter asbestos up to 90 times on average each year. It is believed some 20 die each week from diseases related to the material.
The Bristol HSE has now requested that tradespeople download its new free app, Beware Asbestos. The tool, which can be customised for individual users, is designed to warn of the presence of asbestos and provide guidance on what remedial steps should be taken.
"Asbestos not a thing of the past"
HSE's regional director for Bristol, Samantha Peace, said use of the app could save lives.
"Asbestos is not a thing of the past," Ms Peace said. "It was banned in 2000, but could [still] be in any building built up to then.
"What we're finding is that tradespeople don't know enough about asbestos – and could be exposing themselves to the dust without even knowing it."
Ms Peace added that the app can be used 'on the job', allowing workers to find out if they might be in danger. "[They] can then get straightforward advice to help them do the job safely."
Uncertainty Among Workers
A survey by the HSE has revealed that, because many workers do not know where asbestos might be present, they are prone to contracting serious, even life-threatening conditions.
As many as 85% of tradespeople surveyed did not realise that asbestos may have been used in properties built over many decades prior to the ban.
14% incorrectly asserted that a glass of water will act as protection against asbestos fibres, while 27% thought they would be safe if they increased ventilation by opening windows.
Hidden Time Bomb
Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar LLP, comments “Asbestos does not kill immediately; it takes many years for the first symptoms to be noticed. I have lost count of the number of times I have interviewed someone suffering with asbestos illness in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or even 80’s who has said they wished they had realised at the time how dangerous asbestos is and how to recognise it. They all say if they knew then what they know now there is no way they would have carried on working with asbestos. The HSE app should be publicised as widely as possible, to employees and the self-employed as well as employers and even home owners and DIY enthusiasts, as there is no doubt that it could save many lives.”
To download the app go to www.beware-asbestos.info/news.