Q: There is a poster in Euston station, saying, 'this passage has been closed due to the safe removal of asbestos'. When enquiring, we were assured there was nothing to worry about. But can we trust them?
A: There are two types of work which deal with asbestos: complete removal, where the material is removed from the structure and disposed of; and encapsulation, where the asbestos is treated and completely sealed.
For any type of work involving asbestos there should be a consultation with local trade union health and safety reps. The health and safety reps should have access to the method statements for any such works.
There should also be air monitoring in the work site and surrounding areas carried out by a government-licensed company such as 4Rail. This should be done during and immediately after the works have been completed. The results of the air monitoring should be made available to the Supervisor ie. before s/he opens the station for the start of traffic, and confirmation of these results should also be sent to the local health and safety reps. The air monitoring will provide confirmation that the area where the work has been conducted is not contaminated with asbestos. Of course if the area is contaminated it will not protect the Supervisor or any other persons who have been in that area, it will just confirm the bad news that you have been exposed to asbestos.
Health and safety reps should also scrutinise how the asbestos is removed. The actual area where the work is carried out should be isolated from any access other than by the specialist company conducting the removal works. This area should be sealed with an airtight double-skinned barrier which prevents any asbestos material leaving the area.
Air monitoring should also be conducted for intrusive surveying of areas where asbestos has already been identified. By law there should be an asbestos register which has the exact location of any asbestos identified in that particular station or depot, the register should also state the type of asbestos present. Any member of staff can ask to have access to the asbestos register. Areas where asbestos has been discovered should be subject to restriction notices preventing contractors etc carrying out work which may disturb the asbestos.
The probles with all this is that you have to take on good faith the information that is being provided to you by a specialist company which is in effect self-regulating. Any member of staff has the right to ask management about any aspect of the works involving asbestos. This includes asking to see the air monitoring results and what the facts and figures mean. If the manager can’t explain what the results mean and how they are interpreted then remember you have the legal right to refuse to work in that location on the grounds of health and safety. It may not always be possible to get in immediate contact with your local health and safety rep: if this is so then contact your union's reps on the Health and Safety Council.
The most important thing to remember is Ask Questions. If you have any doubts or are unsure about any aspect of the work going on, keep asking questions until you are sure you understand and are happy with the process. If you don’t get the answers you need don’t ignore the problem, ask your Health and Safety Reps and if need be refuse to work on health and safety grounds.
Remember: Asbestos kills.