Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

Poor old Woolworths. As if they haven’t got enough troubles at the moment, they have ended up being fined for exposing their employees to asbestos dust.

The retailers and their contractor, LCH Contracts were fined £40,000 and £100,000, respectively, including costs, after staff were allowed to clean up the dust using nothing more than a simple dustpan and brush. Staff hadn’t been told about the risks of the dust, nor was there any attempt to minimise the spread of the dust.

The Health and Safety Executive reckon that the effects of asbestos are killing a minimum of 4,000 people a year and exposure to it is the single biggest cause of work-related death.

Those most at risk are tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians, roofers and ceiling contractors and the HSE campaign, which Jewson are supporting, aims to warn, inform and educate construction workers of the dangers. However, as the Woolworths’ experience tells us, it’s also possible for anyone who works in a building that has contained asbestos to be affected.

And, because asbestos was only banned in 2000, that pretty much includes most of us.

How many merchant or supplier offices or warehouses have asbestos in their ceilings that no-one is aware of?

In most cases, companies planning maintenance work will be aware of any issues and will take all sensible precautions. But with our increasingly litigious culture and an HSE that’s fired up about the issue and on the case, this is just one more thing that businesses need to be right on top of so to speak.

The last thing any construction industry business needs at the moment is a fine of anything like the Woolworths proportions.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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