5,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of asbestos exposure. This is around three times the number of road accident deaths. Almost all of the people who are dying now were exposed to asbestos decades ago and asbestos is now often wrongly seen as being a problem of the past as its importation and use has been banned since 1999.
However asbestos is still with us and it is still as dangerous as ever. Asbestos Containing Materials can be found in around half a million non-domestic premises (and probably around a million domestic ones).
This means that people are still being exposed to asbestos. It is often people who are working in maintenance, refurbishment or demolition, but people can, and do, become exposed simply by working in a building with asbestos, as fibres can become dislodged and breathed in. A report from the HSE estimated that 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of exposure and they could come into contact with asbestos, on average, more than 100 times a year.
Simple regulations for managing asbestos in the workplace, however good, will never protect workers from risk. So long as asbestos is found in any place where someone could be exposed there will be a danger. The only way we will eradicate mesothelioma in Britain is by removing asbestos. That will not be easy and there is a need for a realistic timetable, but work towards that should start now.
The TUC believes that the time has come to put in place regulations requiring the safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place across Britain. Only that way can we ensure that future generations will not have to experience the same deadly epidemic from asbestos-related diseases that we suffer today.
If we are to protect future generations from the risk of exposure to this deadly fibre, we need a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos in every single workplace in Britain.
The TUC is calling for new legislation requiring all employers to address the issue by doing a full survey of all asbestos in the workplace by no later than 2022, and then ensuring the removal of all asbestos by 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, this should be done by 2028.
Meanwhile, you can take action now.
The TUC has produced a negotiating guide on how to try to eradicate asbestos in the workplace. You can read it here:
Report by all-party group on occupational health and safety The asbestos crisis - Why Britain needs an eradication law [PDF]
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