Following a month-long inspection of 1,748 repair and refurbishment building sites, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a clear warning to construction firms to do more to protect their workers from the danger of asbestos exposure.
Worryingly, their investigation found that two in five building sites inspected did not provide adequate protection for staff, and one in five sites were so poor that formal enforcement action was required. Exposure to asbestos was featured on the list of serious failures, but other basic safety failures for people working at height were most prevalent.
The HSE inspection shows that exposure to potentially life threatening carcinogens including asbestos is still a major issue in the UK, though it should have been a risk eradicated long ago. The most recent HSE figures for deaths associated with occupational exposure to asbestos totals 2,535 deaths from mesothelioma (mesothelioma register 2012) and 464 deaths from asbestosis without mention of mesothelioma (asbestosis register 2012). It should also be noted that alongside these figures, it is estimated there are approximately the same number of asbestos-related lung cancer deaths each year as there are mesothelioma deaths.
Philip White, HSE Chief of Construction, said: "These results show that whilst the majority of employers in the refurbishment sector are getting it right, a significant part of the industry is seriously failing its workers. We also find health is often overlooked as its implications are not immediately visible, however the effects of uncontrolled exposure to deadly dusts such as asbestos and silica can be irreversible".
HSE has therefore urged industry to ensure the most basic of measures such as use of protective equipment and dust suppression methods are put in place to help protect the future health of workers.
To help combat the problem, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has recently launched a campaign called No Time To Lose to cut number of deaths caused by safety failures in the workplace.
The head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, Richard Jones, said: "This report confirms that the serious problem of asbestos exposure is still very real. Our campaign is calling for a concerted effort to educate and protect workers from work-related cancer and premature death caused by such exposures.
"Action today will save lives tomorrow. Construction workers suffer almost half of all work-related cancer deaths in Britain, due to past exposures to substances such as asbestos and silica - we must put a stop to this", Mr Jones added.
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