Taking Risks with Asbestos

What Influences the Behaviour of Maintenance Workers?

O'Regan S, Tyers C, Hill D, Gordon-Dseagu V, with Rick J  | Research Report RR558 | Health and Safety Executive | May 2007

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Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work related fatalities, and is still present in many buildings from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Today, the workers most at risk of contracting an asbestos related disease are those in construction related trades who conduct maintenance work on these buildings.

This report presents the results of 60 interviews with maintenance workers (including electricians, joiners/carpenters, plumbers/heating engineers, and painters/decorators) who discuss their attitudes towards, knowledge about, and behaviour around, asbestos.

The research found that there are a range of issues affecting how likely an individual is to behave safely around asbestos, including:

  • technical issues regarding the complexity of the message about asbestos and how to deal with it effectively
  • psychological issues, such as attitudes towards risk and personal health
  • cultural factors, such as prevailing worksite culture and economic pressures
  • control factors, and whether individuals feel able to exert control over their work environment.