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Asbestos training pledge

Welcome to the HSE podcast

In this edition we look at how HSE has been working with industry on the asbestos training pledge.

And with this training that is on offer, little changes in your working habit and your behaviour that will only take two or three hours of the day to complete now are going to have a huge impact on your life and the life of your family, to make sure that you're not exposed to asbestos.

But first, here's a round up of other health and safety news.

New figures show the number of people injured and made unwell at work has fallen, continuing the trend and confirming that Britain has the lowest rates in Europe. Between April 2010 and March 2011, 24,726 major injuries such as amputations, fractures and burns were reported, compared with 26,268 in 2009/10.

An estimated 1.2 million people said they were suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their work, down from 1.3 million the previous year. Provisional fatality figures for 2010/11 were released in June. 171 workers were fatally injured - up from 147 the previous year. Construction and agriculture continue to report the highest levels of work-related injuries, with disproportionately high numbers of incidents. For more information on the latest statistics visit

Marks and Spencer plc has been fined one million pounds for putting members of the public, staff and construction workers at risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during the refurbishment of a store in Reading. During the three-month trial, the court heard that Marks and Spencer did not allocate sufficient time and space within the store to carry out the work safely.

Three of its contractors also received fines ranging from two hundred pounds to a hundred thousand pounds, relating to work at the Reading store and to another in Bournemouth.

HSE is challenging the construction industry to learn from the 2012 Olympic construction project and improve the safety record of one of the most dangerous occupations in Britain. In the first of a series of research reports that HSE will publish as part of the 2012 learning legacy, strong leadership and worker involvement were cited as crucial in creating a safe working environment for the thousands of workers on site. Only 114 injuries have occurred during 66 million hours of work on the site so far. To see the report go to, search for 'London 2012' and then click on 'lessons for industry'

Thousands of joiners, electricians and plumbers have been finding out all about asbestos. The courses have been delivered for free by the training industry and in a moment we'll be talking to one of the trainers and some of the people who attended a course in Chesterfield. But first we speak to HSE's Charlotte Dunstan. She's the manager of the Training Pledge Initiative under which the courses were run. I started by asking her how it came about in the first place.

This training pledge initiative is part of the Hidden Killer campaign. The Hidden Killer campaign is about raising awareness of the dangers of exposure to asbestos and has been running since 2008.

So the campaign's been running for a few years already but this is something new, isn't it? You're actually now working with the industry to train people?

That's right. I mean now that we know that at risk workers' attitudes towards asbestos have changed we now want to bring about a change in their behaviour. We want to make it so that their working habits are safer and they are protecting themselves as they go about their daily tasks. So we came up with this initiative working with industry to try and deliver free training to those that need it most.

You talk about the number of people you were targeting, how many people you're trying to get involved, I mean, I understand you had a target of four thousand and there was a very good reason why four thousand was chosen?

Yeah, we had a target of four thousand hours and that was to reflect the approximate number of people that die from asbestos-related diseases on an annual basis which, if you can believe it, is over four thousand. That's more people than die on the roads each year. We had that target and we actually exceeded it so much that we doubled it. We had a separate target for online training and another target for classroom-based training, trying to get four thousand hours for each of those varieties.

So you must have been pleasantly surprised when the figures came in to show that actually you managed to beat your own target?

Well we did, and we beat those targets considerably as well. We actually ended up getting over fifteen thousand hours of free training being pledged.

And people were taking taking that up? I mean, people were keen to get this? I mean obviously, we often think that tradespeople, particularly plumbers, electricians, they're often busy, they've got to earn a living, people were making time to attend the courses or to dial up the website and get the training they needed?

Yes, they were Phil, because I think people know from the previous advertising that HSE's done and because of understanding of asbestos out there in the industry that it is a real risk for them.

Getting together this amount of training must have been a bit of a tall order. When you first approached industry, what kind of response did you get from them?

The response was overwhelming from the beginning. We went out and had a chat with industry and the major bodies that represent training providers for classroom-based training are called IATP which is the Independent Asbestos Training Providers and UKATA who are the United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association. Both those bodies wholeheartedly accepted the initiative and wanted to be part of it.

So the training is actually being delivered by the people who do this day in, day out. It's the real stuff?

It is the real stuff indeed and I have to say that the independent training providers who only found out about the initiative once it had gone live have also pledged in huge numbers.

Well, I'm here now with John Garrity who's running today's training course. John, could I start by asking you why Broadland thought it was important to support the pledge initiative?

Well, we thought it was an excellent idea from HSE to raise the awareness amongst the tradespeople even more and there's a lot of people out there, particularly on the SME side, companies who maybe don't get access to this training and from past experience of doing work with tradespeople they don't really appreciate what they need, what information they need and also how to interpret that information so I think it's essential and I hope they're going to do it again in the future.

And what sort of issues are people bringing up to you when they come on these courses?

Well, a lot of it's down to, sort of, historical exposure issues, they're concerned about their history in the past and things like that, or want to work to hopefully reduce exposure for the future because they weren't aware of the information that was potentially available to them, they weren't necessarily doing a full and thorough risk assessment.

My name's Martin Carruthers, I'm Construction Director for a company called Swainpark Properties Ltd.

And how did you find out about the training course today?

It was the HSE eBulletin that informed us that this was available, free of charge.

And how much did you know about the dangers before coming on today's course?

Well, with being in the industry all my working life you've always been made aware of the asbestos being in place in buildings, so we've always been very proactive on asbestos, employing companies to carry out site surveys and if it is present in a building the right removal certificates are gained through a company that we work with before anybody enters. And we always have site talks to make anybody aware of anything that they're carrying out. If they have any suspicions then it's to make it known straight away and we have the company come in to analyse it and tell us what direction to take with it.

My name is Andy Tunnicliffe and I work for a company called The Bandit Company as the Facilities Manager.

So what sort of things have you learned so far?

It's very interesting to understand the facts and figures relating to the deaths and the exposure rates, that kind of information. The key elements that I think'll come from the rest of the course are the materials and the level of content and obviously the risks that's involved with that.

And do you personally know anybody who's got ill after working with asbestos?

Yes, one of my mother's friends, he actually passed away about five years ago after contracting asbestosis. He used to be a builder and he picked it up from that. I think it's very important that people do attend a course such as this because at the end of the day if you are not made aware of those key elements then obviously you can't take the actions and put the correct procedures in place.

Charlotte Dunstan from HSE again.

Asbestos awareness training is theoretical. It's laying out what the properties of asbestos are, what the effects are on your health, where you might come across it in a building, what asbestos-containing materials there are out there and what procedures you should follow in an emergency and how you can avoid the risks.

So this is really a chance to kind of give people the warning signs so they need to know almost that this is something they can't handle on their own?

That's right, and then once they've identified that it's something that they might come into contact with they would need to get a further class of training which is called "non-licensed training" and this is more practical and it would tell them how to work on the specific materials that they know they work with.

Why is asbestos still a problem today? I mean, people traditionally think of asbestos as a building material that's not used any more. It's very much a thing of the past.

It's not a building material anymore and it has been banned in the UK since before the year 2000. However because of the legacy of its usage it's still in nearly half a million commercial buildings and tradespeople are still disturbing the fabric of those buildings on a daily basis and potentially getting exposed to asbestos fibres.

Looking at the figures here, it's almost eight thousand hours of classroom training and over five and a half thousand web-based e-learning hours that have been delivered now. I mean, it's fair to say that this training, you're hoping it's going to make a big difference, aren't you?

I know, those numbers are incredible, aren't they? The generosity of the training providers has really surprised us all. And with this training that is on offer, little changes in your working habit and your behaviour that will only take two or three hours of the day to complete now are going to have a huge impact on your life and the life of your family, to make sure that you're not exposed to asbestos.

Charlotte Dunstan, manager of the Training Pledge Initiative at the Health and Safety Executive.

You can find a transcript of this podcast at

And if you've anything to say on the subject of asbestos awareness then let us know at or click on the link at the bottom of any HSE web page.

Updated 2014-10-10