Inadequate surveys will increase the danger of workers being exposed to asbestos on site, says Health and Safety Executive or HSE. HSE outlines the risk control indicators which will be used by enforcement officers against which the performance of duty-holders will be measured.

Asbestos simply can’t be ignored. When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect the person immediately, they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that construction community to protect themselves. Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases:

Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.

Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.

Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

This issue needs addressing at the inception of a project and many clients, construction managers and main contractors have realised that independence and accredited asbestos expertise is the only way to solve the problem. A common mistake is to assume that any existing asbestos information will be adequate for the project to proceed. This is unlikely to be the case.

An appropriate survey needs to be in place, HSE recommended. Surveys must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. It has been commissioned with the intended building work taken into consideration;
  2. It has been carried out while the building is unoccupied to facilitate the required level of intrusion – unless the work is a minor refurbishment;
  3. It has been carried out by surveyors accredited to ISO 17020 or ISO 17024 who are insured for the commensurate risk.
  4. The CDM Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that this information is available and for checking the survey.

Expert surveyors is then essential. Only the most experienced surveyors can produce the level of information required. And only those companies with robust quality procedures accredited to ISO 17020, or ISO 17024 for individuals, will be able to produce a document that reports the information gathered on site in a manner that is impartial and independent. In the industry, there are many organisations that are not competent and are employing unqualified surveyors.

This is one of many scenarios that showcase on how ISO 17024 Certification of Persons helps construction industry worldwide.

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