Transiting is the simple process that operatives follow to exit an enclosure. It is the moment where they remove PPE and if they get it wrong, expose themselves to increased asbestos. It is therefore critical. However, when I audit removal projects in the UK, I often come across an almost wilful disregard of this guidance. The poor procedure is reinforced by large training providers (I am thinking of one in particular) that actively train incorrect procedure to delegates.
Asbestos transiting procedure and training
The guidance is clear:
- Clean overalls inside the enclosure – vac with brush attachment
- Step into the inner (dirty stage) of the air lock and clean boots and RPE. Do not remove any PPE
- Step into the middle stage of the air lock and remove PPE (overalls and boots)
- Step into the outer (clean) stage of the air lock and don transit coveralls and boots
So why do over 10% of audits completed by myself and others (using my Assure360 system), record instances of PPE removed in the dirty stage or even in the enclosure itself?
The reasons we hear from the individual operatives, supervisors and their management, typically include ‘well you wouldn’t want to take all that contamination to the outside’ or ‘well the middle stage is a buffer’ or most common of all ‘well I went on a training course last week and they told me…’. All of these demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding as to why the guidance was written as it was.
Correct risk assessment at the moment of transiting should tell us quite clearly who is most at risk – the operative. Therefore what is transiting for? The primary purpose is to ensure that an operative exits a hazardous environment safely. It has a secondary purpose – to ensure that in exiting, – that hazardous environment stays confined. The dirty stage (it’s nick name is such for a reasons) is the most hazardous part of the airlock system, so why should we be asking operatives to remove any PPE here? Removing PPE in the enclosure is clearly slightly insane.
If we lose sight of who is most at risk, it would allow us to think that the secondary purpose is the main one. On the shaky foundations of this ignorance and with the confidence that ‘well it’s only guidance’ brings, we get the poor procedures we so often see.
If the primary purpose was indeed keeping the hazardous environment confined, whilst allowing workers to exit – then a buffer zone or sacrificing PPE early to keep ‘us civilians’ safe, seems sensible.
My frustration, as a professional, comes when major training companies, who frankly should know better, actively teach removal of overalls in the dirty stage of the airlock, sometimes they even council throwing them back into the enclosure. This is directly apposed to guidance and demonstrates a lack of understanding and competence in the trainer. I know of several examples where the employer has designed the correct (guidance led) transit procedures – only to find that their employees have been de-trained at great expense. This misleading training undermines the company’s efforts to protect its workers and potentially induces enforcement action.
I therefore challenge the industry as a whole and training providers in particular to reconsider transiting in light of what it is actually for – protecting the employee.
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