Risk of asbestos in UK hospitals

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According to the BBC, an investigation is underway into claims that a Shropshire hospital failed to deal effectively with the potential presence of asbestos in its buildings. The claims that asbestos was present were originally made in 2012 when a project manager at the hospital reported damaged material, that he suspected was asbestos, close to pipe work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are looking at whether the correct procedures were followed by the hospital trust. This will include if vital risk assessments were performed with a view to safeguarding members of staff.

Unfair dismissal for the complainant

A project manager at the hospital had voiced his concerns about damaged materials surrounding pipe work in the building. After asking why nothing had been done about his findings a month following the complaint, he was dismissed by his employers. An independent tribunal later found that he had been unfairly dismissed after making a disclosure in the public interest.

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust also face allegations that contractors were potentially exposed to asbestos. It is alleged that contractors were allowed into a unit within the hospital that could have contained asbestos, but that the incident had not been correctly reported.

Director of Corporate Governance at the Trust, Julia Clarke, said that action had been taken:

“to ensure there is now a much more robust approach to asbestos management across the trust, including a revised policy …making individual responsibilities much clearer.”

Asbestos found in the tunnels of Guy’s Hospital

Asbestos has claimed the lives of a number of doctors who trained at Guy’s hospital in London. It is thought that the underground tunnels used to transfer patients, and for members of staff to move between buildings, contained large amounts of asbestos which was used to lag pipes.

Basement staff canteens within hospital buildings are also thought to harbour asbestos fibres and dust, which are likely to have been inhaled by employees on a daily basis. The asbestos in the tunnels at Guy’s hospital was removed during the 1990s.

Historically, it has been workers in the construction and shipbuilding industries who have been exposed to asbestos, only decades later paying the price with their health or ultimately their life. Nowadays younger victims are falling prey to asbestos-related disease, and have worked in different industries.

It appears to be the prevalence of asbestos in our public buildings, offices, schools and libraries that is to blame, and only with a greater awareness of what asbestos looks like and why it should be avoided, can we reduce the numbers of those affected.

UKATA online training

UKATA is the UK Asbestos Training Association. They set the standards for asbestos training courses in the UK, and undertake regular checks on training providers to ensure their course content is current.

Asbestos awareness is vital for anyone likely to come into contact with the substance, and allows the identification of likely hiding places. Candidates receive an HSE asbestos certificate on successful completion of the course, which is valid for 12 months.