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Are employees in the Public Sector safe?

It is important to make the point that it is safe to work in a building where asbestos is present but is not exposed or damaged.  Most of the buildings in the UK that have asbestos present in them are likely to be at least 40 years old and many of them are approaching or have passed the end of their useful life and are in need of major refurbishment or demolition.

A report produced by ATaC and NORAC in November 2022 showed that of the 128,761 buildings they inspected 78% were found to contain asbestos and, of critical importance, 71% of the asbestos identified was damaged. The research did not analyse the buildings by type or ownership but it is inevitable that a significant percentage of these buildings would be used or owned by the public sector.

In the UK, and quite possibly the entire world, the public sector has more people working in and visiting buildings they own or rent than any other employer. Even the Palace of Westminster is riddled with asbestos. Almost all hospitals in London have asbestos. Asbestos is present in over 75% of English schools. The Ministry of Defence is believed to use more industrial units with asbestos roofs than any other occupier. Many offices occupied by public sector employees are more than fifty years old. It is likely that many domestic properties used for social housing contain asbestos. It is a huge problem.

Over 140 schoolteachers are believed to have died from mesothelioma in the last ten years as well as at least seven doctors or nurses in London since 2011.  It is not just the people working in these building who are at risk but also people using them such as school children and hospital patients.

Government is ultimately responsible for the public sector.  Unlike any other employer, the government sets and enforces the rules and regulations.  The government must therefore show leadership not only as an employer and provider of public services but also as a regulator.  If the government does not show leadership how can it expect other employers and service providers to behave?

The government should not only manage a central register of where all asbestos is located in every building they occupy or own, but also ensure this is done by every other occupier of a commercial building. Without doing this how can they be sure the people who work in and use their buildings really are safe from asbestos?  They should also be setting a date for the safe removal of asbestos from all commercial buildings. If they do not have a plan they cannot know what the cost will be and if they do not allow for the cost it will not happen.

Thermal Recycling supports Mesothelioma UK’s “Don’t Let the Dust Settle” campaign.

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