Asbestos risk to Metropolitan Police firearms officers

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With more than 125 million workers around the world at risk of exposure to asbestos the easy availability of asbestos awareness courses has never been more important. According to the World Health Organisation, 107,000 deaths each year can be attributed to workplace asbestos-related disease.

Online courses that take only 90 minutes to complete have the power to save lives. Not only those of workers involved in the construction, refurbishment and refitting of residential and commercial buildings, but also of those living and working nearby.

If asbestos is disturbed, thousands of microscopic fibres are released into the air, endangering everyone in the vicinity. Employers in the UK are legally obliged to provide this type of asbestos training for all tradespeople on their staff who might come into contact with asbestos-containing materials during the normal working day.

Metropolitan Police training centres

The importance of undertaking specific training on asbestos awareness is highlighted by a recent BBC news report. It is possible that thousands of police officers have been exposed to asbestos between 1980 and 2007, in training facilities provided by the Metropolitan Police.

A large number of officers past and present are being contacted by the police force in the light of this discovery, and the Health and Safety Executive has also been informed.

The substance was banned in the UK construction industry in 1999, making all buildings constructed before this date a potential asbestos risk. Asbestos was widely used in insulation boarding, ceiling tiles, flooring and pipework, amongst many other areas, and although harmless if left alone, it poses a significant risk to anyone who unwittingly disturbs it.

Asbestos-related diseases

Rare forms of lung cancer including Mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases have been suffered several decades after initial exposure. The shipbuilding industry in particular has seen many deaths from asbestos-related illnesses due to the prolific use of the substance, in conjunction with the confined spaces in which workers had to operate.

Professor John Cherrie from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, said in relation to the Metropolitan Police case:

“People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who were exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they worked directly with asbestos-containing materials.”

An estimated 5,000 deaths a year can be attributed to asbestos exposure. Even though some of the police officers were not working at the training centres full-time, if they attended regular or lengthy training courses their health could still be at significant risk.

As a precautionary measure Scotland Yard is contacting all former and current officers who have used the training centres in question. Specialist Firearms Command Chief Superintendent Mike Gallagher commented:

“… we are committed to providing a high duty of care to our officers – past and present … As such, we are offering a full support package which provides detailed information, advice, guidance, links and contacts.”