Industry News

Asbestos campaign launched by HSE

Figures issued by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that every week 20 tradesmen die from asbestos-related diseases, and this number is set to increase.

Figures issued by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that every week 20 tradesmen die from asbestos-related diseases, and this number is set to increase.

Former tradesman and England and Arsenal footballing legend, Ian Wright, has given his support to help highlight the importance of the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) "Asbestos:The Hidden Killer" campaign which aims to reduce the rising death rate by educating today's tradesmen about the danger that asbestos presents to them. 

Wright was shocked when he learnt that 20 tradesmen a week were dying from having been exposed to asbestos in their working lives. 

He said: "I used to be a plasterer before becoming a professional footballer, and was really surprised to learn that the number of deaths is actually on the increase year on year.  If that was footballers dying, the whole of the premiership would be wiped out in just three months." 

Steve Coldrick, Director of the HSE's Disease Reduction Programme says: "We need to educate tradesmen about how asbestos and its dangers are relevant to them.  We want them to change the way they work so that they don't put their lives at risk.

Exposure to asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths, with around 4,000 people a year dying from asbestos-related disease.

The overall number of deaths is rising because a large number of workers who have already been exposed to asbestos dust around 40 years ago will go on to develop mesothelioma, a terminal cancer or other asbestos related diseases.

1,000 (25%) of the 4,000 now dying each year are tradesmen and while the number of deaths in traditional industries has plateaued, deaths in trades continue to rise.

"The HSE campaign is vital because research shows that only one in ten tradesmen know that exposure to asbestos can prove fatal" says Jill Morrell, Head of Public Affairs at the British Lung Foundation.

"The asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma is a cruel disease which as yet has no cure. We must do all we can to prevent more people dying from this preventable disease."

Many workers, particularly tradesmen, think that they are not personally at risk of exposure to asbestos and the diseases it can cause. They think that since asbestos was banned many years ago, the problem has been dealt with and therefore it is not relevant to them. The reality is very different.   

Even today asbestos presents a real and relevant risk to plumbers, joiners, electricians and many other maintenance workers. Asbestos may be present in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000, and it is estimated that around 500,000 non-domestic buildings could contain asbestos.

These buildings all need repair and maintenance work from time to time and when the asbestos fibres are disturbed e.g. by drilling or cutting, they are likely to be inhaled as a deadly dust.

If asbestos-containing material is in good condition and in a position where it cannot be disturbed or damaged, it is safer to leave it where it is and ensure that the risks are managed. Those responsible for managing building maintenance and repair of non-domestic buildings, have a duty to inform tradesmen if asbestos is present in a building they are working in.

Depending on the type of asbestos-containing material, and providing they have been trained and the proper controls are in place, they may be able to work on the project. Asbestos sprayed coatings, board or lagging on pipes and boilers - should only be tackled by licensed workers.

Posters and radio adverts will encourage tradesmen to get a free asbestos information pack by calling 0845 345 0055 or by visiting for further information.

The free information pack provides information on the dangers of asbestos, highlighting where asbestos-containing materials may be present in buildings, what they look like, how they should be dealt with and where to find training.

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