HSE raises asbestos awareness

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new campaign this week to raise awareness of the risks of exposure to asbestos. 

Asbestos is an insulating material that was commonly used to fireproof and insulate buildings until the mid-1980s. The use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999 as it is known to cause the majority of cases of a cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs.

When a person comes into contact with asbestos, they breathe in tiny fibres of the substance and these can irritate and damage the cells lining the lung. Up to 80 per cent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma have been in contact with asbestos, and the risk is greatest among tradesmen who can be exposed to the substance at work. 

According to the HSE, at least 4,000 people die as a result of asbestos every year. But scientists believe this rate could rise, since people who have been exposed usually do not develop mesothelioma for between 15 and 40 years. 

The organisation's new campaign, 'Asbestos: The hidden killer', is designed to improve awareness among tradesmen, many of whom underestimate the risk that asbestos still poses despite the ban. The campaign points out that any building which was constructed or refurbished prior to 2000 may contain asbestos, meaning that joiners, plumbers, electricians and those in other trades may be at risk if they disturb it without taking the necessary steps to protect themselves. 

HSE disease reduction programme director Steve Coldrick told the BBC: "We have a legacy of 500,000 commercial or industrial buildings in this country which still contain asbestos and it is tradesmen who are at risk from it now. 

"Unless we make them really understand the problems it can cause, in 20 or 50 years time we will have even more people dying."