Firms urged to act as study shows 5,000 deaths a year linked to asbestos

By Alan Jones, Press Association Industrial Correspondent

Firms are being urged to do more to tackle the impact of asbestos after a study found that 5,000 deaths a year are linked to past exposure to the cancer-causing material.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said people were still being exposed to asbestos, 20 years after it was banned in Britain.

More than 130 companies or individuals have been ordered to stop work activities over the past year because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations, said an IOSH report.

Asbestos is present in at least 500,000 buildings built before 1999, said the report.

IOSH chief executive Bev Messinger, who will address an International Asbestos Awareness Conference in Washington DC on April 6, 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.

“Thousands die in Britain every year from cancers like mesothelioma, while many more are diagnosed with it.

“All this is preventable through good occupational safety and health. It is time for organisations to wake up and realise how dangerous asbestos is. There are no excuses.”

Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the British Lung Foundation, said: “Breathing in asbestos dust can cause mesothelioma. Mesothelioma takes a long time to develop and people often get symptoms 30 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.

“Currently the only treatments available are aimed at slowing the progression of the disease and improving quality of life.

“This devastating disease is preventable, and the dangers of asbestos are well known. This means it’s vital companies are vigilant and take the proper precautions to protect people from the life-threatening dangers of asbestos, and take urgent action if asbestos has been found.”