One in four construction workers exposed to asbestos

10 April 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

Image courtesy of Dreamstime

Nearly a quarter (23%) of construction workers believe they have been exposed to asbestos fibres during their work, putting them at a higher risk of contracting terminal cancers.

That’s according to new figures from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), which has launched the fourth phase of its No Time to Lose campaign to tackle asbestos exposure in the world’s workplaces.

While the majority (55%) of workers are familiar with the risks posed, around a third (32%) of respondents have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, IOSH said.

Nearly half of those who have not checked the register did not even know there was one, and almost one in five respondents (18%) said that if they discovered asbestos, they would not be clear on what to do.

Scientists and health and safety experts express concerned about the findings, with Britons having the world’s highest chances of dying from mesothelioma, the deadliest asbestos-related cancer.

Dr Lesley Rushton, the chair of the UK’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and an expert on workplace carcinogens, said: “What these new survey results confirm is that, while people have heard of asbestos and know what the effects of being exposed to it are, they’re not sure how to check if it’s present and they may not know what to do if they find asbestos.

“Uncertainty and ignorance surrounding how to prevent workers from breathing in the fibres is deeply worrying.

“This is particularly the case among small companies, sole traders and older workers. It is crucial that we reach them, to inform them of the risks and how these can be managed, to ensure their future health is not compromised.”

Craig Foyle, IOSH President, added: “Asbestos is banned in the UK and other countries for a good reason: it is dangerous. It is staggering to see how many people die from exposure to asbestos every year. That is well over 100,000 families suffering the devastation of a lost loved one.

“It is unacceptable, therefore, for anyone in any workplace to be exposed to asbestos. Clearly, though, people are being exposed to it. In the decades to come, it is likely that these people and their families will still be suffering unless we all do something about it.

“We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them. IOSH has an array of resources designed to assist employers put measures in place which protect their workforce.”

Asbestos is banned in 62 countries and was banned by the UK in 1999. It can be found in many products in buildings built before 1999, including roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards, ropes, yarns and cloth.

Around 5,000 people in Britain die every year from asbestos-related cancer caused by exposure at work, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

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