The United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has criticised the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over its new web app ‘Beware Asbestos’, which it says “gives completely the wrong message to tradespeople” about working with asbestos.
‘Beware Asbestos’ was launched in October 2014 to help tradespeople identify if they are likely to face danger from asbestos exposure. It offers a selection of multiple-choice questions about the type of building being worked in as well as the job being done, and the type of asbestos containing material present, before offering advice on how to proceed.
However, UKATA has said that its Board of Directors were “extremely disappointed” to see the introduction of the app, with the organisation claiming that many of its members have put pressure on UKATA for a response.
In a statement released on February 13, UKATA says its “considered opinion” is that the Beware Asbestos app “does not satisfy HSE’s own guidance and gives completely the wrong message to tradespeople who may consider carrying out minor works involving asbestos.” It continues to say the app “does not adequately represent the very real risks associated with working with asbestos containing materials.”
The statement goes on to claim that the app appears to have been produced without any input from competent asbestos trainers, and without any input from personnel experienced in asbestos works.
Perhaps most damning of all, UKATA has accused the app of giving “a false impression of asbestos related risk, and can even encourage untrained personnel to perform asbestos work.”
Due to these issues, UKATA says it cannot endorse the HSE’s app and strongly recommends its removal from the HSE web site “before further and lasting damage is incurred.”
In a recent letter sent to Roofzine following news of an unlicensed Suffolk firm providing workers with just baby wipes and a water hose as the only forms of protection, UKATA’s general manager Craig Evans said: “It’s important that those in the construction trade likely to come into contact with asbestos know how to identify it and deal with it safely. Only those with the correct training should handle it.
“Dealing with asbestos without the full training and knowledge can lead to putting both your own health and the health of those around you in jeopardy.”
In response to UKATA’s concerns, an HSE spokeswoman said: “HSE’s Beware Asbestos campaign is aimed at, and reaching, thousands of trades people and workers who undertake jobs on a daily basis that intentionally or unintentionally disturb asbestos. Many of these workers are ignorant of the risks they face and the control measures they should use.
“We’re giving basic advice with the web app, advising on the risks they face in disturbing asbestos and offering simple measures they can follow to help protect themselves. The web app is very clear in stating what work should not be done and when licensed contractors are needed.”
Deaths caused by mesothelioma – an incurable form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure – have reached more than 1,800 deaths a year in the UK, and is expected to rise to a peak of 2,000 over the next five years, according to the latest estimates from the British Medical Journal.