Are you breathing safely?
UKATA explains the importance of following HSG247 guidance – particularly concerning respirators
The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has highlighted the importance of government guidelines surrounding Asbestos: The licensed contractors’ guide (HSG247) to ensure proper removal of asbestos. One area of particular concern is people often not being aware of rules on wearing respirators, and thus significantly increasing the risks of breathing in deadly asbestos dust.
“UKATA still hears a worrying number of cases where individuals tasked with the removal of asbestos have failed to take all the necessary steps to protect themselves in their line of work,” said Craig Evans, General Manager of UKATA. “Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is a particular area of concern as all too often we are still seeing a laissez-faire attitude towards personal safety and poor awareness of where, when and how such life-saving equipment must be deployed.”
Part of the reason for this may be that asbestos can take between fifteen to sixty years from first exposure for the serious harm it causes to become apparent. This can still lull people into a false sense of security when it comes to the dangers of asbestos. Indeed, this delayed response time is the reason it took so long for diseases like Mesothelioma to be traced back to asbestos exposure in the first place.
Although it is still relatively rare to hear of no protective equipment being worn, one real problem in the industry is equipment being used which is inappropriate to the situation. Often, instead of using correct respirators, dust-masks are ‘doubled-up’. These masks are arguably more dangerous than no mask at all when it comes to working with asbestos, as they provide a false sense of security for the user.
Chapter five of the licenced contractors guide covers the use of PPE and RPE and makes clear that RPE “plays a crucial part in the control regime”. The guide also makes clear that RPE is a last resort and not a substitute for the prevention of fibres being released in the first place. Powered respirators are much more effective, but situations where these would be deployed would usually involve licenced work undertaken by licenced contractors.
While work on any type of asbestos can be dangerous, work with asbestos cement products (for example) is usually classed as non-licensed work and can be carried out by non-licenced workers, so long as they have received the appropriate training and the material is sound, and can be handled without the asbestos breaking up. If the material is so badly damaged that there is a real risk of exposure to asbestos fibres, then a risk assessment would determine if a licenced contractor is required.
In any event, licenced and non-licenced employees alike must have been fit tested and training in this area is also vital, as without good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the RPE, any protection it offers is seriously compromised. As it would be unlikely that one type of mask would fit all faces, fit testing is essential. In all of this training, regular refresher courses can make all the difference.
“PPE and RPE are just a few of the training areas covered by UKATA members” added Craig. “While HSG247 is aimed at licenced workers, many would benefit from familiarity with the guide if their work is likely to bring them into contact with asbestos. No matter if employees are undertaking licenced 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.”