LIVES ARE still being put at risk by companies failing to manage exposure to asbestos – two decades after the cancer-causing material was banned in Britain.
According to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), 135 companies or individuals have been ordered to cease work activities because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations since the start of 2018, with a further 130 being warned they must improve.
A further 31 companies or individuals have been prosecuted for breaches, with fines ranging from £1 to £200,000 and, in some cases, even prison sentences. But while these companies are being hit in the pocket, the human cost of asbestos exposure at work is far greater, with at least 5,000 deaths every year in Britain being linked to it.
While it takes 20 years or more for exposure to lead to a cancer diagnosis, IOSH is concerned that the number of buildings containing asbestos and a widespread lack of awareness and uncertainty on how to manage it – particularly among small and medium-sized organisations – means people will continue to become seriously ill in decades to come.
Asbestos is said to still be present in at least half a million buildings constructed before it was banned in 1999, lurking in roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards and cloth.
Global Asbestos Awareness Week
Ahead of Global Asbestos Awareness Week (1-7 April 2019), IOSH is calling on organisations to manage risks more responsibly and stop employee exposure to asbestos, which can lead to cancers like mesothelioma.
IOSH’s Chief Executive, Bev Messinger, will address delegates at the International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference in Washington DC on Saturday 6 April, highlighting the institution’s No Time to Lose campaign to tackle occupational cancer.
Bev said, “It is unacceptable that, 20 years on from asbestos being banned in Britain, organisations are still potentially putting at risk the lives of employees, their families and other members of the public. Courts fine some of the worst offenders, which causes significant commercial and reputational damage, but the human costs far outweigh the financial cost.
“Thousands die in Britain every year from cancers like mesothelioma, while many more are diagnosed with it. We must also consider the families of these people, who watch their loved ones suffer. All this is preventable through good occupational safety and health. It is time for organisations to wake up and realise how dangerous asbestos is. There are no excuses.”
Last year, an IOSH-funded survey found there was a lack of awareness among tradespeople about asbestos. Of 500 respondents, including roofers, nearly one in four said they had been exposed to asbestos, while one in three admitted to never checking the asbestos register before starting work on a new site.
Former roofer diagnosed
Former roofer Liam Bradley, 32, was diagnosed with mesothelioma after surgeons operated on a collapsed lung following a fall from height. While Liam isn’t showing any symptoms yet, his future remains unclear and he is urging organisations to provide more information for people at risk of exposure.
He said, “I worked for a number of small organisations on quite a few refurbishment projects, yet I was told hardly anything about the risks of asbestos, so being diagnosed with mesothelioma came as a huge shock.
“It is incredibly frustrating that people continue to be ignorant about it. I get the sense that a lot of people think it’s an old wives’ tale, something there to scare you. But it’s real. It’s happened to me, so it can happen to anyone else – businesses, and the people who work for them, need to make it a priority.”