Asbestos – the greatest single cause of work related deaths in the UK

Pigment & Resin Technology

ISSN: 0369-9420

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




(2004), "Asbestos – the greatest single cause of work related deaths in the UK", Pigment & Resin Technology, Vol. 33 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Asbestos – the greatest single cause of work related deaths in the UK

Asbestos – the greatest single cause of work related deaths in the UK

Keywords: Asbestos, Health and safety

The making of the control of Asbestos at Work 2002 Regulations in October 2002 introduced the new duty to manage asbestos risk in non-domestic premises. The regulation is at the core of the governments’ continuing strategy to eradicate asbestos related disease.

Nick Brown (the Minister responsible for health and safety), in his speech at the House of Commons during the debate on the Regulations in October 2002, reinforced the government’s support:

“If current levels of exposure to asbestos are allowed to continue over the next 50 years, nearly 5,000 additional people will be exposed to asbestos fibres and will die from asbestos related diseases. These regulations should go a long way towards preventing human suffering and misery, and they deserve the full support of the House”.

Introduction to the asbestos campaign Webpage

The duty to manage asbestos came into force on 21 May 2004 following an 18-month lead-in period. The asbestos campaign messages during that time were emphasising the need for dutyholders to take urgent action to work towards compliance. Some full compliance have been achieved but others may still need to be done.

This Webpage provides those with responsibilities under the legislation with an outline of the duty together with information on what is available to aid understanding and compliance. The site also contains details of HSE’s ambitious supporting campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the requirements and compliance with, the new legislation amongst a vast and complex audience.

Protecting workers from asbestos: a new legal duty

Protection for building and maintenance workers from the fatal diseases caused by asbestos will be enhanced tomorrow when the new duty to manage comes into force. The duty will require anyone responsible for the maintenance of commercial, industrial or public properties or for the common areas of domestic properties to check for asbestos and properly manage the risk.

Many structures built or renovated between 1950 and 1980 still contain asbestos, about half a million buildings across Britain. Asbestos becomes dangerous when disturbed; if maintenance workers are not warned they may dislodge the deadly fibres and unwittingly put their lives in jeopardy. So the risks are great? But effective compliance with the duty to manage will help save about 5,000 lives.

Jane Kennedy, Minister of State for Work, said: “With the government’s whole-hearted support, the Health and Safety Executive is engaged in a campaign to get the message on asbestos in buildings across to the huge audience who need to know about it, and to encourage them to take effective action. It must surely make good business sense to find out whether your premises contain asbestos, and then make certain that building and maintenance workers are warned in advance”. Asbestos is the biggest occupational health risk ever faced by workers in Britain. About 3,500 people are dying every year as a result of exposure to asbestos many years ago, before it was banned. This figure is expected to reach at least 4,000 deaths annually, peaking sometime between the years 2011 and 2015. Most of these deaths are from mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) or lung cancer.

Bill Callaghan, Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, said:

“Asbestos is not yesterday’s problem. We must now meet the challenge of managing the risks from asbestos, if we are to prevent another generation of workers suffering an early death at its hand”. “Sadly, we can’t turn the clock back for the people who breathed in asbestos fibres in the shipyards, docks and factories of 30 years ago. But what we can and must do is to make every effort to prevent any more exposure to this terrible material”.

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