Over two-thirds of the 42 fatalities that occurred in Great Britain’s construction industry between 2009 and 2010 took place within the refurbishment sector. Of those fatalities, 29 people were killed while conducting refurbishment, repair and maintenance jobs, accounting for 69% of industry deaths.
Head of operations at the London-based Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Mike Cross, says that the refurbishment is the only sector that hasn’t made significant improvements in recent years, although there haven’t bee significant increases in fatalities either.
“Different parts of the industry have improved at different rates but refurbishment is not demonstrating the improvements we are seeing elsewhere,” explained Cross. “There are a number of factors behind it but one is that there are a higher percentage of smaller businesses operating in this sector.”
To reduce the number of refurbishment deaths, the HSE will be sending over 150 inspectors to visit firms nationwide over the following three months. Unannounced visits began on February 14th and are focused on working at height, site order and asbestos exposure. Inspectors will pay particularly close attention to whether or not asbestos surveys have been carried out prior to refurbishment work.
Asbestos is a toxic mineral that can still be found in many old buildings. Although its use is now banned in most developed nations, asbestos exposure still kills thousands of construction workers each year. Although asbestos can cause many types of respiratory diseases, mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive. This cancer of the protective lining of organs and cavities is caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma has no cure, and although it takes decades to develop, prognosis is typically less than 18 months.