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Is the Asbestos Industry Ready for e-Learning?

14 November 2008

Following the explosive development of the internet it was inevitable that e–learning would follow.

Early expectations of e-learning were undoubtedly exaggerated and the idea of e-leaning replacing face to face training was way off the mark. Well managed E-learning is suitable for self motivated individuals and if well administrated can be a cost effective and time managed solution, particularly for large organisations who require large numbers of individuals to be trained but have logistical problems in releasing them to attend scheduled face to face courses.
The asbestos industry is a complex model, made up of numerous factions. The asbestos removal industry is one of the few industries subject to licensing and as such statutory initial and annual refresher training is required. Not all asbestos work is subject to licensing and there exists a vast non licensed industry made up of many industrial and maintenance activities ranging from self employed electricians and plumbers to large building maintenance organisations and refurbishment and demolition contractors, who regularly encounter asbestos containing materials (ACM’s) and require statutory training to undertake non-licensed asbestos  works.
Besides the hands on practical aspects of the industry there exists a massive demand for asbestos awareness training, ranging from building maintenance workers who do not wish to work with asbestos but legally require awareness on the dangers of asbestos and steps required to avoid exposure during their work activities. The HSE have identified that up to two million individuals have not yet received suitable asbestos awareness training.
The introduction of the Duty To Manage Asbestos legislation has added to the total with the inclusion of vast numbers of employees who work in buildings where asbestos has been identified and where building owners and managers have a requirement to take reasonable steps to identify asbestos which may be present in their buildings, inform employees and visitors of the dangers posed by asbestos and the management actions that have been put in place to protect them from exposure.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, identify three levels of asbestos training; Category 1 training is required for all personnel engaged in the asbestos licensing sector, Category 2 for those involved in non-licensed asbestos works and Category 3 for those persons who require awareness only.
Category 1 training by necessity requires to be both intensive and hands on. Candidates will need to receive instruction by a mixture of both classroom and practical training and will need to be individually assessed to ensure they have fully taken on board the training content and are capable of undertaking potentially dangerous work with asbestos without putting themselves or anyone else at risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres. There is no question that this type and level of training can only be achieved by face to face training to small manageable groups by suitably knowledgeable and competent trainers, delivered by oral as well as written presentation. Practical demonstration and participation of the correct choice and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) together with safe working techniques is an essential element of the training programme. Delegates will need to be individually assessed both by written assessments and practical competency.
Category 2 training is more complex as the range and scale of non-licensed works can vary from, for example, an electrician who may need to occasionally drill a hole through asbestos containing materials including decorative textured coatings or asbestos insulation board (AIB), through to demolition and refurbishment contractors involved in large scale projects with large amounts of asbestos containing materials which are not subject to asbestos licensing such as corrugated asbestos cement roof and wall panels
Although a case could be stated that e-learning could to some extent provide an effective training solution, the lack of a practical training element together with the need to carefully assess individuals to ensure competence, could not be achieved by e-learning alone but that is not to say a combination of e-learning and practical training could provide an effective solution comparable to face to face training, the key being good administration. 
Category 3 training cannot be compared to the other two categories in as much as there is no intention of those receiving the training ever engaging in any type of works with asbestos without receiving further appropriate training. Although there would be no practical element to the training it would however need to be properly structured, administered, and be assessment based. E-learning for this sector does seem to make some sense, enabling asbestos knowledge and guidance to be delivered to potentially vast numbers of building employees without expensive down time and considerable disruption to  employer’s businesses .
Like all e-learning systems quality is the key together with good administration and back up including online and telephone access to trainers. The progress of e-learning in other sectors has demonstrated that it can be effective and now plays apart in training for a number of industry sectors, the asbestos industry can surely be no exception.   


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