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June 19, 2018

UK health and safety chiefs hit back in asbestos app row

An asbestos removers’ trade group had criticised the HSEs new Beware Asbestos app, but now the authority has moved to counter criticism

Health and safety chiefs have hit back at claims a new online advice service for North East workers could put people at risk of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

The Beware Asbestos app was attacked by the United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association which said untrained people may be encouraged to try and remove the potentially deadly material themselves.

Now the Health and Safety Executive have moved to counter the criticism, with a spokesman saying the authority was dismayed by the reaction to the campaign, which had won the backing of former Newcastle United defender Stuart Pearce.

“HSE is surprised and disappointed that UKATA appears to be arguing for the removal of free advice aimed at those who might otherwise remain unaware of the risks they face with regards to asbestos,” a spokesman 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 when they carry out common tasks such as drilling holes in textured ceilings and replacing old panels around baths.

“The web app takes already existing advice on how to do these tasks safely and presents it in an easy to understand way that workers can carry around with them. “The web app is very clear in stating what jobs tradespeople must not do, and indeed helps them to find and contact licensed asbestos contractors in their area who can do those jobs for them.

“While commercially available training courses, such as those provided by UKATA’s members, play an important part in educating workers on what they must do, it is also vital that as many workers as possible know about the risk they face from asbestos and of the simple measures they can follow to protect themselves.”

Around 2,100 people in the UK are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year and it is almost always fatal, with most of those affected usually dying within 12 months of diagnosis.

The North East – particularly Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Hartlepool – is a blackspot for asbestos-related diseases, as it was used in shipbuilding, construction and the automotive industry.

A ‘standardised mortality ratio’ is used to identify blackspots, where a figure of 100 would be the expected number of deaths, given the age of the population. But in North Tyneside the figure is much higher, at 309; in South Tyneside it is 303; across the Tyne and Wear Metropolitan County the figure is 235; and in the North East it is 170.

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UK health and safety chiefs hit back in asbestos app row