MPs have today (Thursday) backed calls from the TUC for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has today published a report from its inquiry into asbestos management in which it cites TUC calls for stronger asbestos removal.
Asbestos remains the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with 5,000 deaths recorded in 2019. And Britain has the highest rates of mesothelioma cases in the world.
Asbestos is classed as carcinogenic, which means it can cause cancer and other serious lung conditions when fibres are inhaled.
According to figures from the HSE asbestos is still found in around 300,000 non-domestic buildings despite a ban on the use of the substance in new buildings in 1999.
The new report by MPs cites concerns that the likely dramatic increase in retrofitting of buildings in response to net zero ambitions means that more asbestos-containing material will be disturbed in the coming decades.
The TUC says current asbestos management is not fit for purpose and has long called for new legislation requiring removal of all asbestos from public buildings.
Today MPs have called for a 40-year deadline to remove all asbestos from public and commercial buildings. The TUC welcomes the news but says a 40-year deadline is not ambitious enough.
The report also calls for more funding for the HSE to support this increased programme of work.
There is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibres – inhalation even of small quantities can lead to mesothelioma decades after exposure.
This means that where asbestos is still present, it is not safe to assume there will be no disturbances that put working people in danger.
The only way we will eradicate mesothelioma in Britain is with a legal duty to safely remove asbestos, and a clear timetable for its eradication. Only then can we ensure that future generations will not have to experience the same deadly epidemic from asbestos-related diseases that we suffer today.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Everyone should be safe at work. Asbestos exposure at work continues to cause thousands of deaths every year. Asbestos is still with us in workplaces and public buildings across the country. As a result, more than 22 years after the use of asbestos was banned, hundreds of thousands of workers are still put at risk of exposure every day.
“The only way to protect today’s workers and future generations is through the safe removal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings.
“Today’s report by MPs is welcome, but a 40-year deadline isn’t ambitious enough: hundreds of thousands of workers risk dangerous exposure in that time. Ministers must commit to removing all asbestos to keep future generations safe.”
Notes to editors:
- Annual asbestos-related deaths: Asbestos was widely used in buildings and appliances up to the year 2000. Asbestos-related diseases kill more people than any other single work-related cause, with more than 5,000 deaths each year according to the Health and Safety Executive (https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/asbestos-related-disease.pdf). Breathing air containing asbestos dust can cause cancer and many other diseases of the lungs and chest. But its lethal effects may not show up for years or even decades.
- The case for asbestos removal: The all-party group on occupational health and safety has produced a report outlining the case for eradication: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/asbestoseradication.pdf
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
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