The Dangers of Asbestos in the UK

3 September 2018 by Cindy Trillo


One in Four Construction Workers Exposed to Asbestos in the UK

Asbestos has been banned in the UK since the passing of The Asbestos Regulations 1999, yet this dangerous material is still affecting the health and safety of numerous workers in the construction industry. According to a recent survey by the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH), around one in four construction workers believe they have been exposed to asbestos. Meanwhile, around 32% of those surveyed are failing to check the asbestos register. One in five, meanwhile, said they would not know what to do if they discovered asbestos. One of the biggest problems when it comes to asbestos notification is that often, it is not until the induction phase that dangers are explained so that those involved may not be able to make changes quickly enough to prevent exposure. Asbestos exposure could potentially affect workers in a number of industries, including construction and mechanical work in affected buildings.


Asbestos Related Cancer Kills 5,000 Brits Annually

Around 260,000 people in the UK die from lung, trachea and bronchus cancers caused by exposure to hazardous substances at work. Recently, the IOSH and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO) called for employers in Britain to take action against hazardous substances, which include asbestos, silica dust, and engine exhaust emissions. The IOSH has undertaken the No Time to Lose Campaign, which offers free resources to individuals and organisations alike. As noted by Dr. Lesley Rushton, the new Chair of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, specific groups are at risk, namely: “small companies, sole traders and older workers. It is crucial that we reach them, to inform them of the risks and how these can be managed, to ensure their future health is not compromised.”


What are the Health Effects of Asbestos?

Asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye; this can make people workers to its existence or the necessity of getting medical help early. However, when breathed in, these fibres can stick to the lining of the lungs, causing potentially fatal cancers. Every year, around 5,000 people in the UK die from cancer-related asbestos poisoning. Those who are affected should receive medical aid quickly, and be aware of their legal rights to compensation. People should be aware that workers’ families can potentially be affected as well. Cancer patient Vivienne Swain made the news last year when she told the press that she believed she had developed mesothelioma (a cancer strongly linked to asbestos poisoning) by handling asbestos dust in her late husband’s clothing. It is vital for workers and the companies they work for to take a proactive stance to avoid exposure – both for the workers’ sake and that of their families.


Preventing Occupation-Related Cancer

If you are a construction worker or a company working in this industry, sign up to the IOSH’s pledge to prevent asbestos exposure. Moreover, make full use of the free resources available, including fact sheets, advice on developing a prevention strategy, posters, etc. Over 100 business from across the globe have already signed up to the No Time to Lose pledge.
Businesses, workers, charities, educational centres and many other organisations can all do their share to reduce the chance of asbestos-related cancer. Prevention involves registering sites before starting work, building a greater awareness of the effects of exposure, and learning what to do in the case of exposure. Among the key findings of the IOSH survey is the fact that only 59% of workers have been informed of asbestos risks and have had regular training on the subject; some 15%, meanwhile, have never been informed of their risks. Bearing in mind the serious consequences of this lack of information, proactive steps need to be taken by those involved in the construction industry as well as by community organisations, to reduce the serious health risks posed by asbestos exposure.