British asbestos charities, professional bodies and industry unite to send message for Global Asbestos Awareness Week

At the start of the Global Asbestos Awareness Week, organised by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (1st April-7th April 2021), British charitable and professional bodies and industry have joined together to affirm a simple message;

Asbestos is a current and critical risk to workers and the public. It is still a significant cause of chronic disease and death in the UK. Workers, employers and property owners need to remain vigilant and take this risk seriously.”

As the European Chemicals Agency debates lowering the workplace exposure limits for asbestos the bodies call for attention to continue to be paid to this disease. While COVID-19 has focused our attention on virus as the cause of respiratory disease, avoidable exposure, such as to asbestos fibres and silica are resulting in increased reports of death. 40% of the 12,000 occupation-related deaths in 2018 in the UK were attributable to asbestos.

Sufferers of asbestos related diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer are known to have been more at risk directly from COVID-19, while life-preserving treatment is reported to have been interrupted because of the pandemic for some sufferers.

Asbestos in the past saved my fingers from getting burnt as I cooked and I wore oven gloves,’ says asbestos campaigner, Mavis Nye. ‘It stopped my iron burning when I put it on the ironing board. Asbestos meant safety. Race meetings drivers were safe, as they wore asbestos protection. Safe was the word until people began getting cancers from the fibre. The ships my husband Ray worked on had been safe from fire, and when they were being refitted in the dockyard that cruel fibre was killing workers. Now asbestos means mesothelioma to me, such a cruel disease that has taken so many family and friends and I find I have it. I want asbestos out of the modern world to keep people safe; enough is enough. Let’s set up a fund to help people to have the mineral taken out of their lives and take away the fear of what will happen in 40/60 years. Let’s also invest in research so we can treat and even maybe find a cure for mesothelioma.

Since the 1940’s hundreds of thousands of tonnes of asbestos have been imported into the UK and thousands of different asbestos products have been installed into commercial and domestic properties.  Asbestos as a building material was not finally banned until 1999, so any pre-2000 building could contain asbestos. It is sometimes appropriate to remove it, but this requires specialist care and must be done in accordance with strict regulations. Sometimes, it is better left undisturbed and monitored carefully.

IOSH, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, and its No Time to Lose campaign tackling occupational cancer also supports this BOHS call to highlight the continuing hazard asbestos represents for present and future generations.

The Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM), a professional body hosted by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) is making the content of its recent asbestos conference available to help support industry good practice. It is also about to publish its scientific analysis of the recommendations by the European Chemicals Agency on the Occupational Exposure Limit for Asbestos. BOHS is also making available a special issue of its scientific journal to help asbestos researchers make progress in the field.

FAAM and BOHS are squarely behind the proper management and removal of asbestos and want to ensure that this toxic substance does not leave the minds of duty-holders and those at risk of exposure,” says Jonathan Grant, Deputy Registrar of FAAM. “We are pleased to be supporting the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the Mavis Nye Foundation and Action Meso campaign and a couple of our communications team are even running to support the Mavis Nye Foundation.

Every day workers ranging from electricians, hospital maintenance staff, marine engineers to waste and demolition workers have the potential to come into contact with this mineral. “The microscopic fibres that make up asbestos continue to cast a disproportionately large shadow over the nation’s health” comments Kevin Bampton, CEO of BOHS. “We need to be vigilant to prevent exposure because treatment is difficult, costly and full cures to asbestos-related illnesses remain elusive.”