The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has recently issued a detailed position statement in response to growing concerns about the presence of asbestos in health and social care buildings. A widespread health hazard known for causing lung diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos was widely used in UK buildings until its prohibition in 1999. However, it is still commonly found in structures erected or refurbished before the turn of the century, many of which are healthcare facilities.
A strong backing was shown by this leading nursing union for the recommendations presented in a 2022 report by the Work and Pensions Committee. This comprehensive report proposed several key measures, such as setting a 40-year deadline for the elimination of asbestos from non-domestic premises, establishing a digital central register of asbestos in public buildings, and amplifying inspections conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
However, these recommendations were met with rejection from the UK Government, which argued that the current legislative landscape was adequate and that a register would duplicate existing obligations.
Unfazed by these rebuttals, there is a continual commitment from the union to safeguard the well-being of healthcare workers. They argue for a shift in perceptions, highlighting that asbestos isn't just a relic of the past, and that health care buildings aren't low-risk environments. To this end, there is a call for several stakeholders, including the UK Government, HSE, higher education institutions, and employers, to enact preventative measures.
One of the primary actions that the union is seeking is the government's commitment to fund a phased elimination of asbestos from health and social care facilities over the next 40 years. Additionally, they are advocating for the establishment of a digital central register of asbestos in public buildings and for the strengthening and preservation of existing asbestos control legislation.
It is the view of the union that asbestos-related education should be integrated into undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programmes. They also assert that duty holders and employers must comply with existing asbestos regulations and ensure the provision of proper health and safety training for all staff members.
Further efforts are underway to increase awareness and provide training among union members. The aim is to empower them to manage potential risks effectively within their workplaces. Steps include making relevant information available to nurse managers and leaders, supporting members to pursue personal injury claims, and establishing collaborations with partners who share similar objectives.
Through this multifaceted and proactive campaign, the aim is to make sure healthcare buildings are safe environments for staff, patients, and visitors, not only in the present but also in the years to come.