Exposure of UK Industrial Plumbers to Asbestos, Part II: Awareness and Responses of Plumbers to Working with Asbestos During a Survey in Parallel with Personal Sampling

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Abstract

Throughout the European Union, millions tonnes of asbestos were used in the manufacture of products for building and for industrial installations. Today, in the UK, it is estimated that over half a million non-domestic premises alone have asbestos-containing materials in them and it is recognized that those working in building maintenance trades continue to be at significant risk. In part II, the awareness of UK plumbers to when they are working with asbestos was investigated and compared with the monitored levels reported in part I. The plumbers were issued by post with passive samplers, activity logs to monitor a working week and a questionnaire. The activity logs were used to assess whether maintenance workers were knowingly or unknowingly exposed to airborne asbestos fibres during a course of a working week. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on their: age, employment status, current and past perception of the frequency which they work with asbestos and knowledge of the precautions that should be taken to limit exposure and risk. Approximately 20% of workers reported on the sample log that they had worked with asbestos. There was a high correlation (93%) between the sampling log replies that they were knowingly working with asbestos and measured asbestos on the passive sampler. However, some 60% of the samples had >5 μm long asbestos structures found by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis suggesting that the plumbers were aware of about only one-third of their contacts with asbestos materials throughout the week. This increased to just over one half of the plumbers being aware of their contact based on the results for phase contrast microscopy (PCM) countable asbestos fibres. The results from the questionnaire found that over half of the plumbers replying thought that they disturb asbestos only once a year and 90% of them thought they would work with asbestos for <10 h year−1. Their expectations and awareness of work with asbestos were therefore far lower than found during the period of monitoring. The response to an open question on the precautions to be taken, found that 61% of plumbers would avoid disturbance and 59% would use respiratory protection if they did disturb asbestos. However, their awareness of the methods and the need to reduce their risk by control of emissions at source was very low and suggests that further awareness raising and training is needed. The survey was carried out prior to the introduction of the duty to manage and gives a useful baseline to assess the impact of regulatory initiatives.

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