The importation, supply and use of asbestos was completely banned in the UK over 20 years ago but it’s still in around 300,000 non-domestic buildings and many more homes. Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has reporting that there were over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths in 2019, including from cancers like mesothelioma.
As well as this, the HSE has reported that there were 2,369 lung cancer deaths linked to past exposures to asbestos in 2020/21. In general, asbestos kills people than road accidents do, and around 20 tradesmen die each week as a result of past exposure.
That’s why asbestos awareness, testing, and medical surveillance is so important. Asbestos can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000, which makes it a very real risk to individuals, businesses, employers, and employees.
It’s a financial threat, too. With the HSE stating to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee that it expects to increase the number of asbestos-related inspections in 2022/23, it’s more important than ever that you make sure you’re aware of all the medical and legal aspects of asbestos.
Why is asbestos a risk?
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, which don’t necessarily affect a person immediately – it’s quite common that they can take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.
That’s why prevention, protection and awareness is vital.
What medical conditions can be caused by asbestos?
Asbestos can cause a range of fatal and serious diseases, which is why asbestos awareness is so important. These include:
- – Mesothelioma – a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract, almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure. By the time it’s diagnosed, it’s almost always fatal.
- – Asbestos-related lung cancer – this cancer looks the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
- – Asbestosis – a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally happens after heavy exposure to asbestos over a long time. This condition can cause shortness of breath and can be fatal.
- – Pleural thickening – generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure, where the lining of the lung thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.