Although banned in the UK since 1999, asbestos can be found in the fabric of many buildings. It was thought to be used in more than 4,000 products, mixed with other materials, which makes it almost impossible to detect.
The first week of April is Global Asbestos Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos. This is particularly important for the younger workforce – those who started their career after the use of asbestos was banned in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with asbestos, focusing on tradespeople and with a strong focus on the younger workforce. The concern is that younger people are not aware of the dangers – the delayed onset of symptoms following exposure may lead the younger generation to believe it only affects older people who were exposed to asbestos prior to the ban coming into effect.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
The latest statistics published by the HSE show that there are over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths every year in the UK – this includes around 20 tradespeople every week – making it the single biggest cause of work-related deaths.
The issue is of course not isolated to the UK. Worldwide, asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational cancer, claiming more than 230,000 lives a year worldwide, and around 125 million people are still exposed to it at work. Asbestos is still used legally in 70% of the world, in particular within construction, ship building and the automotive industry.
Even in the UK, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000. When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately – they often take a long time to develop but, once diagnosed, it is often too late to prevent progression.
Asbestos can cause the following diseases:
· Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and, by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.
· Asbestos-related lung cancer looks the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one asbestos-related lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
· Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.
· Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.
It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.
Younger people working for example as builders, joiners, plumbers and electricians need to be aware that asbestos is not only a risk for the older generation – the exposure and health risks will remain for future generations if we don’t act now. It is essential that the appropriate protection measures are always in place and that everyone is made aware of their importance.
If you are interested in finding out more about the solutions offered by International SOS and how we can support your workforce, please contact Nicola Yates – email@example.com – or visit my.internationalsos.com/ukhealth