Asbestos awareness training provides the knowledge for workers, managers and supervisors who might come across the substance, to stay safe at work. By recognising asbestos it in all its different forms, the risk of exposure is reduced and worker health protected.
Asbestos was so widely used in industry that it remains part of the fabric of many older residential, commercial and public buildings today. It represents a significant danger to anyone in the vicinity if fibres and dust are released, but awareness training places health and safety in the hands of those workers involved.
Here we look in detail at this vital training, how it saves lives, and the potential consequences of failing to understand the danger presented by exposure to a deadly substance.
There are three types of asbestos training available:
Licensable and non-licensable courses are intended for anyone whose job involves handling the substance. But here we focus on asbestos awareness training for those workers and professionals who will not be involved in handling or removal, but who are likely to come across asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) during a normal working day,
Combined with relevant updates and on-site experience, asbestos awareness training protects the health and safety of workers, their colleagues, and members of the public.
Breathing in asbestos fibres can result in serious health issues in later life. This is a highly carcinogenic substance that causes life-changing and terminal disease, and continues to claim thousands of lives every year.
Predictions that 2,500 people will die annually from mesothelioma until the end of this decade illustrate the extent of the issue. Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer attributed to asbestos, and just one of the diseases suffered by victims exposed to asbestos at work in previous decades.
The nature of asbestos fibres makes them easily inhaled, but very difficult for the body to expel due to their brittle nature. This causes change at a cellular level over a period of years, sometimes up to six decades.
The sheer amount of asbestos that remains in buildings constructed before 1999 when the ban was introduced, means that tradespeople are still at high risk of exposure. It is becoming increasingly apparent that others working in older public buildings are also at great risk, with schools in particular being cause for concern.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, it is compulsory for employers to provide awareness training to workers who might encounter the substance at work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for worker health in the UK, and can take action to enforce these regulations.
The ‘duty to manage’ asbestos in non-domestic properties hands responsibility to the owner of the building, or to the person in charge of maintenance and repair. This person has a legal requirement to establish whether asbestos is present in the building, and assess the degree of risk by taking into account its condition and the likelihood of disintegration.
An asbestos register must then be maintained, providing up-to-date information for anyone contracted to work on the property.
Those most at risk from asbestos are employed and self-employed tradespeople, demolition workers and those in the construction industry. Building surveyors, architects, engineers, and other professionals whose work involves older buildings, are also likely to encounter asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) on a regular basis.
In addition to those already mentioned, the following tradespeople should take asbestos awareness training as a matter of urgency if they have not already done so:
In order to meet Health and Safety Executive requirements, asbestos awareness training must include four main modules:
The United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) is one of the main asbestos training bodies in this country. It offers accreditation for:
UKATA audit their members (training providers) to ensure all course content meets HSE requirements, and that it is relevant and up-to-date. High standards in this respect ensure those who take their asbestos training are equipped with the knowledge to stay safe at work, whatever level undertaken.
The IATP offers accreditation for the following categories of training:
They also demand high standards from their members, and carry out detailed audits of each course. IATP require documentary evidence demonstrating compliance with HSE regulations, and this is included in each member’s listing on their website.
The maintenance of occupational hygiene and worker health protection are two of the key areas covered by BOHS. Asbestos awareness training, management of asbestos in buildings, air sampling, and other asbestos courses are provided by its members.
A range of certification is offered, including UK proficiency qualifications and certificates of competence in individual subjects.
RoSPA offers broad health and safety training, including a one-day asbestos awareness course that can be tailored to individual needs. Successful participants receive a RoSPA certificate of training which they can use to show their commitment to health and safety.
Although training certificates are not specifically required by the Health and Safety Executive, they do provide proof that workers have undergone specific training and demonstrated an understanding of asbestos best practices.
Each accredited asbestos training provider is affiliated to a training association, which offers asbestos awareness certification to successful candidates. The training association’s official stamp will be included on these certificates, which generally expire after a period of 12 months.
You should note that some training providers may offer unaccredited certificates. If you are in any doubt what type of certificate you might require, you should check with your employer.
Certificates are usually made available for download once a final assessment is complete. They are a useful addition to a worker’s training portfolio, and can boost their future career prospects.
Online and classroom training are both available for asbestos awareness. Which type of training is chosen will largely depend on an individual’s circumstances and preferred learning style.
Whereas some people enjoy and benefit from a classroom environment that allows for face-to-face discussions with other candidates and the tutor, many take advantage of the inherent flexibility that e-learning provides.
An online course allows candidates to work at their own pace in an environment that suits them, rather than having to attend a weekly class. This might be at home, or at work with their employer’s permission. They can also participate in discussions with their peers online, and obtain help and support from tutors when necessary.
The Health and Safety Executive advise that refresher training should be provided each year, but this does not need to be as formal as the full course. Competent supervisors could discuss current best practices during an in-house health and safety meeting, for example, or the employer might choose to update their workers’ knowledge via online learning.
In the third and alternate years the Health and Safety Executive suggest the full awareness course should be re-taken. This is according to the training needs of individual workers, however, and their likelihood of working in an environment where asbestos is present.
When considering asbestos awareness training as a whole, one of the main considerations is the likelihood of individuals coming into contact with the substance at work. This, alongside their training needs and existing level of experience, generally determines the extent to which training is needed.