Best practice construction welfare standards are key to diversification within the asbestos industry, explains Graham Warren
Best practice construction welfare standards with lockable, single-user decontamination units (DCUs) are crucial if the asbestos industry is to attract and recruit a more diverse labour pool.
In November 2022, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published internal operational guidance as a resource for its inspectors and officers visiting UK construction sites to help them form an opinion on the standards they observed.
Expectations have increased in recent years, especially compared with the days when welfare, especially on transient sites, was equated with an ability to visit a local café.
Innovations and drawbacks
The asbestos industry has innovated, with a welfare and rest area combined with the DCU a standard requirement on all HSE-licensed sites.
A recent survey among ACAD members found that almost all are struggling to recruit, yet few women work in the asbestos removal industry – close to single figures from a national workforce of thousands
However, many still feature communal showers and do not have internal door locks to protect the privacy and security of users.
The new HSE guidance reinforces the requirement to have lockable changing areas and highlights the need for privacy, irrespective of gender.
The issue of female site safety was highlighted in November 2021 at the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) conference, which raised the lack of security within a DCU.
The Female Analyst Working Group (FAWG) suggested that fitting internal door locks as standard, making DCUs single occupancy, was a positive step in the right direction.
A recent survey among ACAD members found that almost all are struggling to recruit, yet few women work in the asbestos removal industry – close to single figures from a national workforce of thousands.
This is an obvious potential labour pool that the sector needs to encourage by ensuring sites possess the necessary facilities.
For larger sites, DCUs can have two or even four showerheads fitted within a single space, but the expectation that multiple workers can shower and change together appears contrary to the latest guidance.
Changing shift patterns
An obvious solution is to use single lockable DCUs and stagger shift patterns to allow many more people to pass through to maintain privacy and security.
This will also benefit the ageing male workforce in the construction industry, many of whom may suffer underlying health issues.
Another benefit of single-occupancy DCUs is to remove any possible peer pressure for an individual to rush decontamination, which is a critical safety step.
Embracing single-occupancy DCUs allows the industry to remove all potential barriers to employment based on gender or religion.
This supports and encourages diversity in the workforce, and creates a real route to plugging the construction skills shortage.
The HSE guidance sets the direction of best practice in terms of welfare over the coming years, something that is supported, encouraged and championed by ACAD.
Graham Warren is a manager at asbestos trade association ACAD.