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Asbestos Training - Just a Tick Box Exercise?
Aside from the legal requirement to have all workers who may disturb asbestos in the course of their work trained, we need to remember that it is estimated that 85,000 workers in the UK regularly disturb asbestos on a daily basis. It is essential that trades staff are appropriately trained to not work with asbestos.
Still workers are disturbing asbestos in the work place on a daily basis. The HSE suggest this daily exposure presents a risk to 28 million people in the UK.
Many organisations have had their staff trained, but there is huge variation in the quality of this training.
When does asbestos training fail to be effective?
There is a larger problem in the asbestos industry. The field of occupational hygiene historically has required highly academic individuals applying scientific principles to reach reliable conclusions. Such individuals underwent many years of training and experience to achieve "competence".
In 2002 the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations included a new "Duty to Manage Asbestos" organisations were required to hold asbestos registers and management plans, compiled following asbestos surveys. These must have been completed by 2004. There was a massive industry demand for asbestos surveyors.
Due to high demand for staff, there has been a significant dumbing down of knowledge in the industry and many "consultants" are unable to recite the regulations, yet alone the reasons for why they are carrying out a task or be able to interpret their results with any meaning.
Asbestos training has suffered as a result, training is another of the services that a typical consultancy may offer, however many people are uncomfortable with standing in front of a large group, and most in the industry have been compartmentalised into specific roles with the result that they do not have a sufficiently rounded knowledge to deliver the syllabus. Many companies are reluctant to train their staff in case they request a pay rise or move to a competitor.
The HSE state that a trainer must be "competent", competency is usually determined by having relevant the knowledge, skills and experience. Frequently health and safety professionals deliver asbestos awareness training but have no asbestos qualifications or experience - are they competent? Often trainers inherit a training presentation and read out lengthy, dry and boring power-point slides, but are unable to answer questions on the material.
So what makes great asbestos training?
Firstly and most importantly the content needs to be interesting, keeping a class engaged is essential for getting the message across. Training needs to be presented in different formats covering different learning styles: spoken, visual, demonstrative etc. Studies show that after 31 days only 20% of information learned is likely to be retained. The material must be delivered in varied formats to achieve maximum impact.
The trainer is the key element; a charismatic, confident and entertaining person will captivate the class, and learning will be more effective. This person may be asked any variety of questions and must be in a position to provide reliable and truthful answers. The material delivered must be referenced and not based on anecdotes from the Daily Mail or something they heard on site. Many trainers deliver fiction and lies due to a lack of knowledge, this puts workers at real risk. Some crackers include: "AIB always has a plastic film on it", "Celotex never contains asbestos", "Amosite was not found to be dangerous until 1983", the above was cited by an accredited training organisation! An expert would spot this nonsense straight away, however a lay person would accept this information as fact.
How to choose a good trainer:
- Check the CV of your trainer, do they have a Certificate of Competence in Asbestos (CoCA), a qualification only achieved after a thorough grilling, on any asbestos related topic, in front of a panel of experts
- Do they have relevant industry experience, they may "talk the talk", but have they "walked the walk"?
- Be sceptical of free asbestos training or online training, they say anything worth having is worth paying for - what will you get from this?
- Ask if training material is up to date in line with current legislation, guidance and work practices.
- Check how many staff will be in each session. Too many, and the trainer's attention will be diluted.
- Does the trainer take interest in who will be trained at the enquiry stage, will they be training managers and architects or operatives? Both require different training respective to their roles.
Good quality asbestos training is the crucial start of the compliance process. If the right decisions are made before a tool is lifted, then workers and the public are kept safe, projects are planned to be cost effective and nasty surprises are avoided.
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