Communicating about asbestos
Asbestos is a very emotive subject and as such the issue of what to tell staff, students and others affected by it is somewhat thorny. There are several schools of thought on how and what reveal about asbestos on-site.
Some err on the side of caution and urge consultants and contractors not to divulge anything for fear it may cause panic. However, the sight of surveyors and/or removal operatives attending site in full PPE/RPE often instigates these types of question:
· What are you doing here?
· Why are you wearing masks/overalls?
· Why haven’t we been given PPE?
· Is it safe to go back in when you have finished?
· What are the risks of being exposed?
· Have we been at risks for years?
It is unreasonable for the consultant or contractor not to provide some response to these and other questions. In fact, obfuscation or worse, no response, is likely to cause greater alarm. There is little official guidance on communicating information about asbestos to those affected. The only reference made in the guidance documents published by the HSE is contained in ALG Memo 03-12 which, curiously, is concerned with procedures for removing external ACMs.
In our experience, we believe it makes sense to trust stakeholders with basic details about asbestos risks and how these are being managed on their premises. The key is to impart the information while providing reassurance. Responsible surveyors and removal contractors take great care to eliminate or minimise the risks of exposure to asbestos fibres during their work so they should not feel compelled to conceal the true nature of their attendance on site.
Indeed, we would strongly advise that stakeholders are provided with information about asbestos well in advance, even before the survey is carried and preferably at the appointment stage. Not only will this reduce the likelihood the surveyor being pestered on-site for information about the risks but it will also help to manage expectations regarding reinstatement of intrusive work. However, if some minor damage is anticipated and they are informed that this is an inevitable consequence of the refurbishment process they are far less likely to complain.
For further information, please contact:
Paul Phillips, Operations Manager, Global Environmental
01279 213 600
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