A UK construction site carelessly left its workers exposed to asbestos fibres because of a lack of planning, as ruled by the court. The Swansea site was the source of a demolition and refurbishment project which should have determined beforehand whether asbestos was present on the site because of the prevalence of asbestos fibres on older renovation sites. The company in charge were also guilty of putting an untrained and unqualified staff member in charge of the operation. Australian contractors can learn a lesson from the incident about proper planning and the need for trained supervisors to be put in charge on sites especially supervisors trained to handle the hazards present, such as asbestos.
Read this post on Theconstructionindex.co.uk which explains what happens and the court’s ruling:
The client had two asbestos management surveys for the site, which, although later deemed to be inadequate, identified the presence of asbestos material and highlighted other areas, such as the ceiling voids, which were presumed to contain asbestos.
Despite this, work was allowed to begin even though Oaktree had been advised by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) that a separate ‘refurbishment and demolition survey’ was also required before any activity started.
During the demolition works an asbestos insulation board (AIB) covering a steel column was damaged, and a Wall Colmonoy employee was told to tape plastic bags around it. Work continued in the building for several months with the AIB debris left lying on the floor until an unannounced visit was carried out by an HSE inspector.
A subsequent HSE investigation found that Wall Colmonoy failed to appoint a competent construction, design and management (CDM) co-ordinator and principal contractor to plan and manage the construction work, and ignored advice from its own health and safety manager to notify HSE of the demolition phase of the project, as is required by law.
The good news is that the unions of Australia are leading the fight against asbestos and have successful secured compensation pay-outs for thousands of workers and their families. The unions have recently called for a National Asbestos Authority who can oversee asbestos related issues in the nation. But there is still a long way to go if we are to see zero cases of asbestos related diseases in Australia.
Demolition and renovation work has to be done properly with adequate planning and the appropriately trained and experienced staff in charge. A full risk assessment must be conducted on every work site prior to work beginning.
The post went on to state:
“Had a refurbishment and demolition survey been undertaken, and had a licensed asbestos contractor been used to removal all asbestos materials prior to the work starting, then the risk would have been eliminated. Instead this inadequate response left workers exposed to asbestos fibres, which can cause potentially fatal lung disease. The health and safety of workers must not be left to chance.”
Workers involved in renovation work should look out for asbestos in the following situations:
- Within a house or a building site, asbestos is most commonly found in asbestos cement sheeting, also known as ‘fibro’.
- Asbestos cement sheeting can be found in a flat form in internal and external walls and ceilings. This is why renovators and domestic construction workers often come across this harmful substance when breaking down old buildings or renovating them.
- A corrugated form of asbestos cement sheeting, also known as ‘super six’ or ‘super eight’, is commonly found on roofs, as fences and sometimes as external wall cladding.
- Asbestos can also be found in vinyl sheeting and tiles, external gutters, pipes and vents, backing to electrical switchboards in a black product known as zelemite, insulations to heater banks, air conditioning ducting and pipes, gaskets to pipes and pipe joins, certain paints, brake pads and clutch pads to vehicles, mastics and glues behind wall tiles and vinyl, waterproofing in windows, roof tiles and woven textile seals to old ovens, grillers and kitchen appliances.
- Asbestos fibres can also be found in hessian carpet underlay recycled from the hessian bags that used to transport asbestos fibres from the mines.