Lives are still being put at risk by companies failing to manage exposure to asbestos – two decades after the deadly cancer-causing material was banned in Britain.
Since the start of last year, 135 companies or individuals have been ordered to cease work activities because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations, with a further 130 being warned they must improve.
A further 31 companies or individuals have been prosecuted for breaches, with fines ranging from £1 to £200,000 and some directors being given prison sentences. The latest company to be sentenced was a Devon-based hotelier, which was fined £80,000 yesterday after asbestos containing materials were disturbed during renovation work.
But while these companies are being hit in the pocket, the human cost of asbestos exposure at work is far greater, with at least 5,000 deaths every year in Britain being linked to it.
While it takes 20 years or more for exposure to lead to a cancer diagnosis, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is concerned that the number of buildings containing asbestos and a widespread lack of awareness and uncertainty on how to manage it – particularly among small and medium-sized organisations – means people will continue to become seriously ill in decades to come.
Despite being banned in 1999, it is present in at least half a million buildings constructed before this time, lurking in roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards and cloth.
During Global Asbestos Awareness Week (1-7 April), IOSH is calling on organisations to manage risks more responsibly and stop people being exposed to asbestos, which can lead to fatal cancers like mesothelioma.
"since the start of last year, 135 companies or individuals have been ordered to cease work activities because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations"
IOSH’s Chief Executive Bev Messinger will address delegates at the International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference in Washington DC on Saturday 6 April, highlighting the institution’s No Time to Lose campaign to tackle occupational cancer. Bev said:
“It is unacceptable that, 20 years on from asbestos being banned in Britain, organisations are still potentially putting at risk the lives of employees, their families and other members of the public. Courts fine some of the worst offenders, which causes significant commercial and reputational damage, but the human costs far outweigh the financial cost.