Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, employers are required by law to protect their workers’ health and safety. This includes the provision of awareness training for any worker likely to encounter asbestos, as well as providing appropriate personal and respiratory protective equipment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can prosecute employers who fail in their legal obligations, and only those trained to deal with asbestos should be allowed to handle or remove it. You should also receive training on how to use the equipment provided by your employer.
HSE statistics show that around 20 tradespeople die each week from historic asbestos exposure, so what type of equipment do you need to protect yourself against asbestos?
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
As an employee, you should be provided with the following types of PPE:
- Disposable overalls are preferable as ‘standard’ overalls retain dust or fibres on their surface, and also need specialist cleaning. You should treat disposable overalls as asbestos waste when work is finished.
- Wear one size too big, as this allows more room to manoeuvre and prevents tears and rips at the seams
- Loose cuffs should be sealed with tape, and the legs worn over your footwear
- Consider wearing waterproof overalls if your work is outside
- Boots provide better protection than overshoes, and help to prevent slipping. They shouldn’t be lace-up boots, however, as proper cleaning of this type of boot is difficult.
- Disposable gloves should be used only once
- If latex gloves are your only option, they should be ‘low protein powder-free’
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
Using the correct type of Respiratory Protective Equipment is key to remaining safe, but unfortunately this is an area where workers can be at risk – a common scenario being to use dust masks ‘doubled-up’ instead of using respirators.
This places workers at extreme risk of inhaling asbestos dust and fibres should any be released. It’s also important to have your respirator ‘fit-tested’ to ensure there are no gaps through which asbestos particles can enter.
Which types of RPE are suitable for work with asbestos?
- Respirators with an Assigned Protection Factor of at least 20
- Suitable disposable, semi-disposable, or half-mask respirators
- Powered respirators are required for long-duration work
Workers need to know how to check their RPE is working correctly, and spot potentially faulty equipment. They must also be aware of how the respirator should fit, and understand its limitations.
The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) offers guidance on the correct use of Respiratory Protective Equipment. General Manager of UKATA, Craig Evans, commented on the importance of regular training in this respect:
“No matter if employees are undertaking licensed or non-licensed work, regular refresher training on RPE should be an annual event at least. Without adequate training there is no guarantee (nor can an employer assume) they know how to use it safely.”