The number of construction workers in the UK undertaking asbestos training has dropped by over 66 percent since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA).
Despite the re-opening of construction sites in May, UKATA said the number of workers undertaking asbestos training courses continues to remain well below average and are at their lowest level for five years.
Prior to the pandemic, an average of 18,000 workers a month completed asbestos training. Over the last six months (March-August), an average of 6,000 workers a month undertook asbestos training delivered by UKATA-approved training providers.
Craig Evans, Chief Operating Officer of UKATA said the organisation was concerned that health and safety training was being overlooked as construction sites pushed to make up for time lost during the lockdown.
“This not only increases construction workers’ risk of exposure to deadly asbestos but also the buildings’ users.”
“Asbestos-related health issues, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, are not identified immediately after exposure to asbestos. It takes between 15 years and up to 60 years before deadly asbestos-related diseases present themselves.”
“The latency period of asbestos, coupled with a substantial drop in training numbers, could mean that the UK will be facing a greater amount of deaths from asbestos over the next 15 – 60 years. To reduce this risk it is important that delivery of asbestos training returns to pre-COVID levels.”
Deaths from asbestos exposure have increased dramatically in the last 15 years after widespread use between the 1950s and 70s. Since 2018, there have been more than 5,000 deaths annually in the UK from asbestos-related cancers – the largest single industrial killer ever seen in the UK.
The HSE recommends that asbestos refresher training courses should be undertaken to help ensure knowledge of asbestos awareness is maintained. The asbestos regulations also make it clear that asbestos training for non-licensable and licensable asbestos works should be carried out at least annually.
To ensure asbestos training continues to be accessible during the pandemic, UKATA approved its 200-member companies and individuals to deliver asbestos courses by video conference technology.
Craig Evans added: “It is now vitally important that all construction employers and workers ensure that all asbestos training is up-to-date. These are difficult times, but this is a matter of life or death.”
The majority of UKATA-approved training providers are now fully operational and either delivering courses remotely online or face-to-face observing social distancing guidelines.
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