|Asbestos in the factory|
Having been built in 1917, the Richmond Road factory was full of asbestos. During Michael’s time at Hawkers the hazards of contact with asbestos and the illnesses associated with it – such as mesothelioma – came to be fully appreciated. However getting rid of asbestos was no easy matter and he here tells the story of its removal.
Now, I did mention asbestos and at the time asbestos was becoming a real problem. There’d been television programmes about it and people started to claim about mesothelioma and disease and so on.
Now as I said, it was the early days but we were well aware that being a factory built from the First World War time, there was a great deal of asbestos in all sorts of materials. For example, the insulation on all the steam pipes was heavily covered in asbestos material. So that had to be identified and we sent samples, because there are different types of asbestos and there’s a higher risk level between them. And we had to know what we were dealing with because, the specification produced for the work varied depending on the nature of the asbestos.
And so we used a company, a few companies, but one in particular, Yardsley Testing Centre would take samples of asbestos away and report. And as a result we would produce an engineering specification for the work.
Now, it was rather horrendous because you had to close the total area and seal it airtight with polythene and framework and then people had to have a shower area and a tunnel to get out of the factory. Go and shower their overalls and clothing and then go into a 'Clean Room' and get dressed in their outdoor gear. We had to involve the factory inspectors because they were also concerned and there were regular meetings with the Factory Inspector and their team over this matter.
Identification of asbestos was a problem in itself because whilst some things you automatically knew like steam mains had asbestos, there were other components in the buildings, and sometimes machinery, that had asbestos - but you didn't really always recognise it right away, especially if it had been painted. Now, if it's a solid sheet and it's painted, providing no one is going to work on it, normally it's acceptable to leave it in place. In fact, it is probably the safest way. It's the removal or the working on it that is a problem.
But, because it was a live activity there were always things and developments going on. You couldn't help but come into contact with even the sheet materials that were painted and you had to remove those. So, back again came the polythene tents and the men with the suits on and the shower facilities. So, I would say the asbestos problem remained with us for the best part of seven years.