The dangers of asbestos in UK hospitals

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According to Wales Online, Glan Clywd hospital in Rhyl had to evacuate some of its patients recently when the presence of asbestos dust was suspected in six of the wards. Some operations also had to be cancelled as a result.

Although not officially confirmed as asbestos, contractors with specialist breathing equipment and protective outerwear entered the areas concerned and sealed off the doors.

Tests for air quality had previously been carried out, resulting in decisive action being taken by hospital officials. Critically ill patients were unable to be moved, but others were transferred immediately to surrounding hospitals.

Asbestos presence in older buildings

Asbestos is commonly present in buildings constructed prior to 2000. Use of the substance was banned in the UK in 1999, but it remains a danger to anyone working in or visiting these buildings, because if disturbed, deadly fibres and dust are often released into the air.

Once inhaled, they can set up life-threatening diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, which often only manifest themselves decades later. Asbestos dust can go unnoticed when airborne, especially if people are unaware of its potential presence in their environment.

Safety precautions

A visitor to the hospital in Rhyl described the scene as he arrived at the ward where his father was a patient:

“They were sealing off the doors going into the wards and there must’ve been around eight to 10 managers and workmen outside the door to Ward 3 wearing protective suits and breathing apparatus. They must’ve been concerned to go to all that.”

Of course, the hospital authorities are correct to take these precautions, and are obliged to assume the worst in order to keep everyone safe.

Little asbestos awareness within hospital buildings?

Asbestos has been found in many other hospitals around the UK, including Guy’s in London. A consultant anaesthetist developed mesothelioma at the age of 48. He was one of four doctors who worked at the hospital, and later developed this aggressive type of cancer during a five-year period.

All had trained at Guy’s, where asbestos was found to be present in the underground tunnels used by many of the staff. Commonly found in hospital basements, asbestos was used to lag pipes and has also been discovered in basement canteens.

High compensation payouts for asbestos exposure

In 2014, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £55,000, and had to pay costs of £34,078 following prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for four breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2006. This encompassed a 50-year period of asbestos exposure for hospital staff.

The insurance industry has now provided a fund of £350 million for asbestos victims post-2012. This helps them to be compensated should they be unable to claim against an employer, even though their illness is officially attributed to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos awareness for people working in hospitals

Asbestos training courses are available online. They make people aware of the dangers of asbestos, as well as its location within older buildings. Tradespeople, in particular, benefit from UKATA online training. It is a legal obligation for employers to provide asbestos awareness training for their workers, who receive an HSE asbestos certificate on successful completion.