A prolific use of asbestos in the housing industry goes back many decades. Because the substance was only banned in 1999, it remains a persistent threat to the health of people working and living in these older properties.
Even though there’s a legal obligation for employers to provide training on how to deal with asbestos, many breaches of this part of the Health and Safety Act still occur.
So it’s refreshing to hear about a social landlord in Scotland taking the problem of asbestos seriously. The Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) is to hire a surveying contractor to identify where asbestos lies within its housing stock, and ensure its safe removal prior to the properties being rented out.
A spokesperson from SBHA said:
“We aim to ensure all materials containing asbestos are effectively managed and any risk to tenants is reduced to its lowest practical level.”
With a budget of £180,000 for the surveying project, the housing association seems to be determined to tackle the issue without cost being an issue.
Wide use of asbestos in construction
The health risks of asbestos are often underestimated, either through lack of knowledge or lack of care – with potentially fatal consequences. Asbestos was so widely used in the construction industry, that only houses built after its ban in 1999 can be guaranteed to be free of the substance.
The dangers of removing it have been well-documented – the task should only be carried out by contractors specifically trained to undertake such work. Major health and safety issues can arise when it is removed without following strict guidelines, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) often takes legal action in these instances.
Some asbestos fibres are like tiny needles, and cause damage to the lining of the lungs. Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive type of lung cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibres and dust. It is untreatable, and according to statistics from Cancer Research UK, caused 2,429 deaths in 2012.
Land contaminated with asbestos earmarked for development
An area of land in Cirencester known as Humpty Dumps, was to be developed for housing, but following the discovery of potential asbestos contamination on the site, remediation works will need to take place.
One of the local residents described how asbestos sheets had been dumped on the land during the 1960s, and this led to fears locally that there may be more asbestos present yet undiscovered.
The development company will be required to carry out further tests once the area has been cleared, if the planned housing is to go ahead.
Asbestos awareness for workers in the housing industry
Online asbestos training courses provide the information needed for workers to stay safe. Course content includes where asbestos might be found within residential and commercial properties, and how it should be dealt with. On successful completion of this type of UKATA online training, an HSE asbestos certificate can be downloaded which demonstrates a worker’s commitment to best practice.