Nearly one in four UK construction workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres, placing them at higher risk of contracting terminal cancers later in life.
And with potentially half a million buildings containing this lethal mineral, employees across many sectors risk being exposed every day – continuing the trend of Britons having the world’s highest chances of dying from mesothelioma, the deadliest asbestos-related cancer.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is revealing the findings of a survey it commissioned to find out how much construction workers know about this hazard, on the day it launches its campaign to tackle asbestos exposure in the world’s workplaces.
While the majority are familiar about the risks posed, a third of survey respondents have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site – with nearly half of those not even knowing there is a register. Almost one in five respondents said if they discovered asbestos they wouldn’t be clear about what to do.
Leading scientists and safety and health experts have expressed concern about the findings. Along with IOSH, they are calling on employers across all sectors to ensure they do not expose employees.
Dr Lesley Rushton, the new Chair of the UK’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and a leading expert on workplace carcinogens, said:
“What these new survey results confirm is that, while people have heard of asbestos and know what the effects of being exposed to it are, they’re not sure how to check if it’s present and they may not know what to do if they find asbestos.
“Uncertainty and ignorance surrounding how to prevent workers from breathing in the fibres is deeply worrying.
“This is particularly the case among small companies, sole traders and older workers. It is crucial that we reach them, to inform them of the risks and how these can be managed, to ensure their future health is not compromised.”
Asbestos is banned in 62 countries. The UK banned it in 1999, but many buildings constructed before this time contain it. It can be found in many products including roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards, ropes, yarns and cloth.