Building industry workers lack asbestos awareness
12 April 2023
ASBESTOS RELATED diseases still claim 5,000 deaths every year. A long latency period means that very often several decades can pass before the onset of symptoms . For those who have been exposed to asbestos, the health implications can be devastating.
Although asbestos, a type of mineral which is resistant to heat and corrosion, was fully banned in the UK in 1999, it is estimated that 1.5million buildings in the UK still contain the cancer-causing material meaning the risk of exposure is still very real1.
This Global Asbestos Awareness Week, specialist legal services law firm, Slater and Gordon, has conducted research to identify how aware those working in the construction sector are of asbestos and the risks it poses.
And it seems the sector need to be educated about the dangers with many potentially coming close to asbestos without realising it. Shockingly, a 11% of people working in the industry, including architects, construction workers and engineers, aren’t sure what asbestos is. Additionally, 7% of those surveyed did not know asbestos can cause health problems with more than a quarter (27%) of those unaware that mesothelioma can occur as a direct result from exposure. In fact, 4% of those surveyed thought handling asbestos was perfectly safe.
When it comes to occupations that may be more at risk of exposure, one-in five- people in construction (18%) didn’t think those working in the industry were at an increased risk with one-third not realising plumbers specifically were at risk.
Of those surveyed, 29% didn’t realise asbestos could be found in industrial buildings, 42% weren’t aware it could be present in ceiling and floor cavities, and more than half (51%) weren’t aware it may be in floor tiles. An additional 40% of people in the industry thought residential buildings were always completely safe from asbestos.
Jordan Bell, principal lawyer & head of industrial disease department at Slater and Gordon, said: “Although asbestos is no longer used in the construction of buildings, it is still present in buildings that were built many years ago – from schools to factories and even homes -and therefore there is still a risk of exposure to anyone that uses those buildings. This means everyone, not just those who handled the asbestos at construction stage, should be aware of what asbestos is and what the implications of exposure are.
“It is also important to be aware that family members of those who were employed in potentially high-risk industries whilst asbestos was in use are aware of what asbestos is. As the latency period of asbestos exposure is so long, it may be worth speaking with elderly family members who worked in these environments to determine where they believe they were exposed and how that exposure to asbestos occurred.
“Despite the fact that asbestos is no longer used as a construction material, we are not seeing a reduction in the number of claims related to exposure. This is in part due to the extended latency period of asbestos-related illnesses but we also cannot ignore the fact that it is still prevalent in so many buildings. If you, or a family member, has suffered with an asbestos related disease, a specialist industrial disease solicitor will be able to advise you on next steps.”
1. Report: 1.5 Million UK Buildings Contain Asbestos [Infographic]