Britain is facing an occupational cancer epidemic that is killing 50 people every day which has been almost entirely missed in official statistics says a new survey by Hazards Magazine and the TUC which calls for an urgent and fully resourced public health response.
Occupational Cancer diagnosis
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that just four per cent of the UK's annual cancer death toll (one in three people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, one in four will die from it) is as a result of exposure to carcinogens at work, which it says is equal to 6,000 deaths a year.
However, the 'Burying the evidence' report by Hazards, the TUC-backed health and safety magazine, concludes that the incidence of occupational cancer in the UK is much higher, and suggests that it is between 12,000 and 24,000 deaths a year (the equivalent of 16 per cent of all cancer deaths in the UK).
Jonathan Kay died in August 2005 at the age of 40. Shortly before his death, he had learned his employer, Kelda Group plc - formerly Yorkshire Water Authority - had admitted liability for the asbestos cancer that was to kill him.
Fatal asbestos cancer
Four months before his death from mesothelioma, a cruel and invariably fatal asbestos cancer, he said: "There was a level of dust that you could see in the air. You could taste it in your mouth." Mr Kay said his employers never gave him protective equipment, even though the government had introduced strict regulations regarding the use of asbestos some 20 years previously.
His solicitor Paul Webber of national law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "Jonathan fought hard for justice for himself, but most importantly for him, for his young family. Despite clearly being in extreme pain, he continued in his quest... Although Jonathan did not live to receive the compensation, he died secure in the knowledge that his family would be protected."
Jonathan Kay is one of a new generation of younger workers succumbing to asbestos cancers. Barry Welch was just 32 when he died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in April 2005, his death the result of a cancer which until recently was assumed to be a disease of old age. His exposure to the fatal fibre is thought to have occurred in childhood, caused by dust on his stepfather's work clothing. Mr Welch's inquest will be taking place on the 14th December in Leicester.
Neither Jonathan nor Barry had spent years in highly polluted heavy industry. They form part of an emerging epidemic which authorities failed to spot and, for the new generation of workplace killers, are doing precious little to prevent.
Irwin Mitchell have joined with the TUC and Hazards Magazine in calling for the real level of occupational cancers to be recognised and for urgent action to be undertaken on behalf of the government for more safeguards for those people exposed to hazardous materials, and for the full range of these hazards to be recognised.
Can we help you? If you or someone you know has been involved in a similar incident please visit our asbestos related diseases section for more information.