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Asbestos remains a real threat to UK workers as well as a global killer

This week is Global Asbestos Awareness week, a campaign committed to raising awareness of the dangers of hazardous material and the need to prevent asbestos exposure. This year’s theme is focused on “One Word, One Week , One World” and is focusing on four key areas:

  • Banning the mining, manufacturing and use of all six asbestos fibres around the world;
  • Preventing asbestos exposure;
  • Increasing compliance and enforcement of existing laws and regulations; and
  • Strengthening international partnerships to protect public health

The history of asbestos 

The use of asbestos dramatically increased during the 19th and 20th centuries following the Industrial Revolution. The mineral became a cheap and convenient component and it was used in a variety of products including insulation, pipe lagging, building materials and car brakes.

As the use of asbestos grew, sadly so did the deaths attributed to the deadly dust. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 90,000 people around the globe die every year from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos still a real risk to UK workers 

In the UK, asbestos remains the single greatest cause of work-related deaths. Accordingly to the Health and Safety Executive, asbestos-related diseases currently kill around 4,500 people a year. More than half of those deaths are from mesothelioma, a cancer that can be caused by even very low levels of asbestos exposure, and is always fatal.

The UK enforced a complete ban on the importation, supply and use of all asbestos in 1999 but like most developed countries, the ban only related to the continued use of asbestos rather than enforcing any law on removal. This means that asbestos can still be found in the fabric of many buildings, including workplaces, hospitals and schools. 

Irwin Mitchell's public buildings campaign highlighted that more than 4,500 public buildings across 20 of the largest UK local authorities still contain cancer causing asbestos and there remains a lot of work to be done to continue to prevent asbestos exposure occurring.

The global issue

Although the severe effects on human health are well known, only 67 countries out of 195 have banned asbestos. It's particularly shocking to know that asbestos continues to be mined in several countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Zimbabwe.

Russia is the world’s largest producer of asbestos and the second largest consumer. Asbestos continues to be used for insulation, roofing and car parts in Russia, with the country maintaining that it remains a safe material to use. 

Although India banned the mining of asbestos in 1993, according to Indian Government data, the country imported 361,164 tonnes of asbestos in 2019 to 2020.

Sadly, this means that many people continue to be exposed to asbestos in uncontrolled environments, condemning a further generation to rising incidences of asbestos-related diseases.

Collaboration to reduce the risks

A global collaboration of clinicians, researchers, scientists and care providers were formed in 1995 and the International Mesothelioma Interest Group now meet regularly to discuss research, treatment and education for people diagnosed with mesothelioma.  

This group will not only make a difference for people living with mesothelioma now but also the people across the globe who will be diagnosed with this devastating disease in the future. 

Devastating impact of asbestos leaves people needing answers and access to specialist care 

At Irwin Mitchell, we see first-hand the devastating effect asbestos can have on many families. Often following a diagnosis of a disease linked to asbestos, people and their families not only want answers to where they were exposed but also require specialist support to come to terms with what's happened. Securing a settlement connected to asbestos exposure also means many of those living with illnesses have the security of knowing their future care needs will be guaranteed.

It's worrying to think that people across the world and in the UK continue to be exposed to asbestos putting them at risk of developing these conditions in the future.

While steps have been taken in some countries to ban the mining and manufacturing of asbestos, there's much more that needs to be done internationally to ensure that asbestos really does become a thing of the past.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in supporting people and families affected by mesothelioma and other diseases at our dedicated asbestos-related disease section.