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Posted in: Asbestos Exposure Employer Negligence Mesothelioma 

Asbestos is often referred to as the hidden killer, and is responsible for the death of around 20 tradesmen a week on average.

Despite a number of high-profile campaigns aimed at highlighting the extreme dangers associated with exposure to asbestos, there are still a distressing number of new prosecutions every year by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) against negligent employers who have failed to protect their workers from this deadly substance.

Workers put at risk

A recent incident reported by the HSE demonstrates how workers are still being negligently exposed to asbestos. 

In this case, two asbestos surveyors were prosecuted after construction workers were exposed to potentially-deadly fibres during the refurbishment of a pub in Sale.

The surveyors were hired to carry out a full asbestos survey at the disused pub ahead of a major refurbishment project to bring it back into use. They produced a report following a visit to the site, which was used by the principal contractor to identify which areas were safe to refurbish and which required a licensed company to remove asbestos before any work could take place.

However, the report was inaccurate, and did not identify all the areas of asbestos in the building. As a result, workers carrying out the refurbishment work were exposed to asbestos fibres.

Punishment for safety failings

The surveyors both pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were each sentenced to 40 hours of community service and had to pay £1,500 towards the cost of the prosecution.

About asbestos

Asbestos was used extensively in the UK building trade for almost forty years and, according to the HSE, any building built before 2000 has a chance of containing the substance.

Asbestos is safe as long as it is in good condition, but once it is damaged, asbestos fibres can become airborne and anyone breathing in these fibres is at risk of developing an asbestos related disease.

Asbestos related diseases

There are four main diseases associated with exposure to asbestos, which are responsible for around 4,000 deaths every year:

Asbestosis 

The latest information shows that in 2010:

  • There were 412 deaths with asbestosis as a contributory factor, compared with 109 in 1978.
  • There were 169 deaths in 2010 in which asbestosis was the specific cause of death.

Mesothelioma 

The latest information shows:

  • In 2010 2,347 people died from mesothelioma – up from 153 in 1968. Eighty percent of the deaths were men, as a result of workplace exposure.
  • The worst case predictions for males are that annual deaths will increase to a peak of about 2,100 around the year 2016.
  • Female deaths are likely to peak after this but at a much lower level as most deaths among women are likely to be due to non-occupational asbestos exposures.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Numbers of these deaths are based on an estimate, as it is difficult to tell these cancers apart from those due to other causes such as smoking. According to the HSE, the annual mortality rates are probably about the same for asbestos-related lung cancer deaths as for mesothelioma deaths (2,000).

Non-malignant pleural disease 

This includes diffuse pleural thickening and the less serious pleural plaques. The latest estimates suggest that around 821 cases of non-malignant pleural disease, mainly caused by asbestos, were reported n 2011. Many of these were cases of pleural plaques.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.


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