Asbestos laden HMS Belfast

hms belfast
(HMS Belfast by Michael Drummond)

I came across an interesting blog post from the Recognition, Evaluation, Control blog which provides a stark reminder of the fact that vast quantities of asbestos remains in public buildings and other locations in the UK. The blogger, an occupational hygienist, was recently on holiday in London and visited HMS Belfast which is permanently moored on the Thames. As an occupational hygienist they found it difficult to leave their day job behind, especially when they saw the asbestos on the ship. They actually state in their blog that they don’t think they have ever seen so much asbestos in one place before!

They provide several interesting pictures which show how close members of the public are able to get to the asbestos lagging. However, the blogger states that they were glad to see that the Imperial War Museum who run the vessel, take their responsibility to protect the health of visitors and employees seriously, as all the lagging is said to be in good condition, and warning notices were positioned where asbestos was present.

I have never visited HMS Belfast, but I wondered whether there are any warnings regarding asbestos provided at the ticket office before visitors buy their tickets to board the ship? If there are no effective warning notices before boarding, only once on the ship, whilst the Imperial War Museum may argue that there is no risk, surely a visitor should be given the opportunity to decide whether they want to go on an asbestos laden ship.

I checked out the HMS Belfast website and to find any mention of the asbestos you need to dig around a bit. For those interested, from the left hand side menu you need to click on Groups and Schools. This brings up a number of options, and the one you need is Risk Identification. On clicking this it states that teachers and group leaders should carry out a preliminary visit in advance to conduct their own general risk assessment, of all possible risks. Still no specific mention is made of asbestos on this page, and it requires clicking on the Internal Environment section before we find a mention of asbestos, and this comes in the fifth item down and states:

‘All public areas on HMS Belfast identified as containing asbestos have been sealed or encapsulated and are inspected regularly by the ship’s maintenance crew.’

Should children really be allowed on board this ship whilst asbestos remains present, especially as it is clear that visitors are allowed in close proximity to the asbestos. To me the belief that supposed encapsulated, well maintained asbestos lagging is safe is a fallacy. All buildings and structures move, and with the added element of human activity inside there will always be risk. It will be financially costly, and perhaps that is why it remains, but the asbestos should be removed, not just for the safety of visitors but also for another reason. I have no doubt that some of those who put the asbestos lagging on the pipes in HMS Belfast will have died from asbestos related diseases, and to keep such material in full view of the visiting public is a slur to the memory of those unknown laggers who have lost their lives as a consequence of their exposure to it.

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