More Intervention Needed on UK's Asbestos Legacy, IOSH Launch Hears
- Date: Friday 13th April 2018
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The continuing legacy of the UK’s extensive use of asbestos in the built environment from the 1940s to the 1970s could require a concerted programme of removal and a re-think on current exposure limits, according to the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM).
IOSH is launching new guidance and training materials on asbestos management for employers and duty-holders as part of the fourth phase of the No Time to Lose campaign, which aims to cut the incidence of work-related cancer in the UK and globally.
Around 5000 UK workers are still dying every year from asbestos-related lung cancer or mesothelioma, while around 500,000 commercial and public buildings still contain asbestos to some degree, along with one million homes.
Worldwide, asbestos claims over 107,000 lives a year, and around 125 million people are estimated to have work-related exposure. A recent survey of UK construction workers showed a worrying lack of awareness of asbestos risks and how to manage them. A third of survey respondents indicated that they have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site and nearly one in four workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres, placing them at risk of asbestos-related disease. 15% reported never having never been informed of the asbestos risks and 18% said that if they found asbestos they would either be unsure or have no idea what to do.
The UK’s current asbestos fibre exposure limit of 0.1 fibres per cm3 measured over an 8-hour period is designed to protect specialists working in controlled environments, for a limited period and is far less tough than the 0.01 fibres per cm3 limit set in the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.
This begs the questions: Is the asbestos exposure limit we currently have adequate to protect people in the future? Do we need a formal programme to eradicate asbestos from the UK?
Mesothelioma UK currently pays the salaries of 18 specialist mesothelioma support nurses around the UK and has plans to increase this network to 30. Around 20 people will die each week from asbestos-related diseases. Not all are in their 60s and 70s, having been exposed later in life. Exposure is not just related to construction sector workers. Those working in schools, hospitals and on university estates may also be affected. The charity will also be partnering with the British Lung Foundation on a project looking at the armed forces, where there is reasonable evidence of asbestos-related disease.
IOSH president Craig Foyle states that: “Asbestos is banned in the UK and other countries for a good reason: it is dangerous. It is unacceptable for anyone in any workplace to be exposed to asbestos. Clearly, though, people are being exposed to it. It is staggering to see how many people die from exposure to asbestos every year. In the decades to come, it is likely that these people and their families will still be suffering unless we all do something about it. We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them. IOSH has an array of resources designed to assist employers to put measures in place which protect their workforce.”