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50353 & 50357 Clarification required for working near asbestos

March 2012 in London Underground

tagged Knowledge Skills and experience Rules and procedures Work environment South East

Two reporters have contacted to CIRAS independently with additional health concerns about working near asbestos following an earlier report (41221) and response from London Underground. The concerns relate to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), training and certification.

The response states:

           "If contractors or subcontractors are working near asbestos containing materials      and there is the potential for their work to lead to the accidental disturbance of the      asbestos then appropriate PPE would be disposable coveralls and disposable P3 dust masks." 

Both reporters query the effectiveness of disposable coveralls and disposable P3 dust masks. There is some confusion over what a P3 dust mask is - for instance, do the masks manufactured by 3M fall into this category? They are not sure whether the disposable equipment provided is effective against the fine particles contained in asbestos. It is suggested that chemical showers may also be required to decontaminate staff after working near asbestos. Items like tool bags may also need to be treated if they have collected a layer of dust.

Currently, there is an 'asbestos exclusion zone' between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. One reporter comments that London Underground staff have been sent there without any briefing, asbestos awareness training or 'green card' certification, though the specified PPE was provided.

The reporters would like London Underground to clarify:

  • If a 3M disposable dust mask qualifies as a P3 mask?
  • Who else manufactures suitable masks?
  • If disposable masks and coveralls offer adequate protection against asbestos?
  • If staff should be briefed fully before working near asbestos?
  • What training and certification are needed to work near asbestos?
  • If it is necessary to have a chemical shower after working near asbestos?
  • If items like tool bags should be also be decontaminated?
  • What the rules are for working in an asbestos exclusion zone?

Response from London Underground

London Underground thank the reporter for their enquiry and clarify the points raised below.

If a 3M disposable dust mask qualifies as a P3 one?

3M are a manufacturer of dust masks. P3, or more formally FFP3 in accordance with BS EN149:2001 refers to a level of protection provided by a dust mask. This can be either a disposable mask, or a mask used with disposable filters. Ideally the dust mask should be face fit tested and users should be clean shaven to ensure a good fit to maximise the protection offered by the mask. The dust mask should be marked FFP3.

If disposable masks and coveralls offer adequate protection against asbestos?

Work near asbestos does not require any specific PPE, as under normal circumstances this work should not lead to disturbance of the asbestos so that it becomes airborne and presents a hazard. Risk assessments have recommended the use of disposable masks and coveralls to provide additional protection for workers where there is greater potential to unintentionally disturb asbestos containing materials, for example during heavier work when replacing track. Typically this type of work is undertaken whilst working alongside licensed asbestos removal contractors who would initially remove the sleepers and clear the area of asbestos containing materials that present a hazard. This work would be carried out in controlled conditions, using negative pressure enclosures to contain any asbestos fibres that may be released, together with air fibre monitoring to ensure safe working conditions are maintained. The licensed asbestos contractors would then declare the area safe for new track to be installed in asbestos free conditions.

Non-intrusive work, such as track patrolling, inspections, surveys and signalling maintenance activities do not require the additional controls of disposable masks and coveralls as the likelihood of disturbing asbestos when carrying out these tasks is very low and staff should keep within the four foot way.

If staff should be briefed fully before working near asbestos?

Prior to the start of any works, briefings should be given detailing the work to be undertaken, the hazards associated with the work (including asbestos) and the controls or precautions required. This should also include  protection arrangements when working on the track. Such briefings are required as part of London Underground's management system and Rule Books.

What training and certification are needed to work near asbestos?

Asbestos awareness is included as part of the London Underground Construction Access (LUCAS) card training. All Engineering and Construction Workers on London Underground are required to carry this card to demonstrate that they have received basic training for their role. In addition to this, where identified through risk assessments, further asbestos awareness training is provided to workers who will be in areas where there is greater potential for asbestos exposure, for example track and signalling maintenance and project workers deployed on the Central Line area referred to in the report.

If it is necessary to have a chemical shower after working near asbestos?

There is no requirement for decontamination showers after working near asbestos.  The reporter is incorrect in using the term 'chemical'. Water showers are used as part of a decontamination unit for licensed asbestos workers or in situations where there has been an unplanned, airborne disturbance of asbestos fibres. The decontamination unit includes a dirty area where clothing is discarded for disposal, a water shower and a clean area to dry off and re-dress in clean clothing. Decontamination units are readily available for use and are generally available at the work site when licensed work with asbestos is being undertaken, or can be brought to site quickly as part of emergency arrangements should they be necessary following an unplanned, airborne disturbance of asbestos fibres.

If items like tool bags should be also be decontaminated?

Items like tool bags would not normally require decontamination, as work near asbestos would not normally result in their contamination. When working near asbestos controls are in place as described above to prevent the disturbance of asbestos containing materials. If work equipment was contaminated with asbestos it would either be cleaned or disposed of in a controlled manner.

What the rules are for working in an asbestos exclusion zone?

The 'exclusion zone' between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green referred to in the report is an area of track where asbestos containing materials have been identified and specific control measures have been implemented to prevent any uncontrolled disturbance and to protect workers from the hazards associated with asbestos at this location. These basic control measures include:

  • The use of a permit system, operated by the Central Line track management team, to ensure that works undertaken in the area have taken account of the presence of    asbestos containing materials.
  • The use of licensed asbestos removal contractors to undertake intrusive work such as sleeper removal and the clearance of any asbestos containing materials that may be present.
  • Asbestos awareness training.  
  • Not walking or stepping outside the four foot way.
  • Not leaning or placing tools against the lower part of the tunnel lining and keeping them within the four foot way.
  • Restrictions on the type of work that may be carried out near asbestos.

When a specific exclusion is set up, for example when undertaking track replacement work, rules would include:

  • Pre-booking the exclusion zone so that other workers are aware.
  • Marking the boundaries of the exclusion zone on the track and positioning staff at or    near these points to control access.
  • Work with asbestos undertaken by licensed contractors, with only licensed workers present and safety controls implemented in accordance with legislation.
  • Once the work with asbestos, such as sleeper and asbestos containing material removal, has been completed the licensed asbestos workers would then declare the area to be safe for other work near asbestos such as sleeper installation to    commence.
  • If required, work near asbestos would be undertaken with controls and precautions in place as described in this response.

The exclusion zone would remain in place for the full duration of the work as additional    controls and precautions such as dust masks and coveralls may be required due to the nature of the work when working near asbestos.

The 'green card' more formally known as the LUCAS card is a requirement for all Engineering and Construction Workers on London Underground. A number of checks are in place prior to work starting to ensure that all workers have a valid LUCAS card, and hence have basic knowledge required for this type of work. If the reporter is aware of circumstances where workers have been sent to site without this card this should be reported as an incident to the London Underground Incident Reporting Line.

 50353 & 50357