Why we still need to be asbestos aware

25 April 2017

The beginning of April marked Global Asbestos Awareness Week, a worldwide campaign organised by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) to help educate the global community about the risks of asbestos and bring to light the ongoing plight of those affected by asbestos-related disease. There are many organisations seeking to disseminate the same message, including a number of very active campaign groups based here in the UK.

Despite this, many people remain unaware of the catastrophic impact that asbestos-related disease continues to have on the health of our nation. At the same time, some assume that conditions such as mesothelioma and asbestosis are diseases of the past, given that the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK for a significant number of years. However, one only needs to take a look at the statistics to understand that the issue is very current.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) predicts that deaths from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma will peak next year. This would indicate, almost 20 year after asbestos was finally banned outright in the UK, we are seeing the highest incidence of mortalities caused by the potentially lethal substance.

In its Health and Safety at Work Vital statistics 2016 report, the Health and Safety Executive goes on to project that there will be around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths each year until the end of the present decade, when the mortality rate will start to decline and estimates that there are ‘currently about as many asbestos-related lung cancer deaths each year as there are mesothelioma deaths.’

But, even with a predicted ‘decline’ in the mortality rate, the legacy of asbestos will mean many thousands more deaths over the decades to come, as instances of fatal asbestos-related disease decrease very gradually.

Figures researched and released by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), less than six months ago show that six people in England and Wales die of mesothelioma every day. These statistics go to show that, despite the two most dangerous types of asbestos, blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) having been banned for import and use in the UK since 1985 and white (chrysotile) asbestos being subject to ban since 1999, the long term effects of exposure to the substance are still manifesting.

It is commonly cited that mesothelioma can take 20 to 30 years to emerge but, at Shoosmiths, we have seen instances of people becoming ill as long as 50 years after being exposed to asbestos. Tragically, for those diagnosed with this fatal disease, life expectancy is often less than 12 months, upon diagnosis.

The devastating legacy of historical exposure to asbestos continues to claim many lives today, with its impact being felt not only by those who worked in high risk industrial occupations but also by people who worked in public buildings, such as schools and hospitals. Asbestos was used extensively in the construction and refurbishment of public buildings from the 1950s until the time of the ban and we are now seeing asbestos-related disease claim the lives of teachers, health-workers and public servants, as a result.

Even now, years after asbestos was banned and with strict regulations in place surrounding its handling and removal, there is a still a risk that individuals could be unwittingly exposed to the substance. Residential properties built prior to the 1999 ban may contain asbestos, which, if damaged or disturbed - during DIY, for instance, could pose an immediate health hazard. This is a risk that many young people remain unaware of, as they were not conscious of the extensive publicity that surrounded asbestos during the 80s and 90s.

Maintaining a level of awareness in regards to asbestos-related disease and the risk still posed by asbestos in the present-day is essential. Campaign groups play an invaluable role here, as they continue to shine a light on the issue and push for the rights of people who have been negligently exposed to asbestos.

Awareness helps people to source legal redress, if they suspect they have developed an asbestos-related disease as a result of negligence. With many thousands more individuals predicted to fall victim to these terrible illnesses over the decades to come, it is important that this awareness does not wane.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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