Terry Slater, Director of SMH Training & Scientific Services UK LTD highlights the hands-on knowledge of asbestos management that comes from the continuous development of skills.

All workers who carry out work on asbestos containing materials (ACMs) using control measures and who have specific responsibilities to either site, set-up, operate or maintain industry specific equipment must demonstrate that they are competent to do so.

What does this mean in practical terms?

New asbestos removal operatives – or those returning to the industry after an absence of over 6 months – are obliged to undertake an accredited course for new operatives, as stated in the Control of Asbestos 2012 (CAR 2012) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

Over the course of 3 days, delegates complete modules covering a range of activities to prepare them for work with licensed asbestos removal and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). This includes the health hazards of asbestos and the relevant legislation, as well as a range of practical skills, such as enclosure set up, maintenance and dismantling, controlled removal techniques, and clearance air testing. Written and practical elements must be passed in order to complete the course. For example, delegates are required to demonstrate the successful use of a full primary decontamination procedure.

However – like the unfortunately-named ‘crash’ courses in driving – the real learning begins after passing the test.

Continuous development of knowledge, skills and experience

The new operative course is a great foundation for licensed asbestos work, but there are many ways in which individuals can, and should look to develop their knowledge, skills and practical experience:

On-the-job learning

Individual workers can learn a lot from one another – and it is not only new entrants who can learn from more experienced workers. It is important to recognise that the most effective personal development is the kind that comes from the experiences and challenges which are encountered in everyday work.

Industry updates

There are several bodies active in the asbestos and related industries, such as the HSE, the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA), and the Asbestos Control & Abatement Division (ACAD) and they work constantly to improve working practices and procedures, and signing up for regular email newsletters or industry magazines can provide access to the latest thinking.

Product knowledge

It is important to understand the equipment used every day. Speaking to suppliers can help – they are experts on the products they sell, and many can provide useful advice. Often they have product ‘champions’ or offer specialist demonstrations of their equipment or even training in the best use of it.

Regular formal training

It is mandatory for all workers to complete annual refresher training in order to maintain their licence. This should be treated as an opportunity to improve working practices, focusing on identified gaps in knowledge and designed to avoid skills erosion, particularly with more experienced workers, incorporating bespoke toolbox talks or on-site assessments of real working practices rather than simply repeating the initial training.

Foundation training might leave individuals knowing how to work with asbestos, but continuous learning is what develops true competence, the real know-how.


Terry Slater


SMH Training & Scientific Services UK LTD

Tel: 0191 456 6000




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