Workers Memorial Day happens every year on 28 April all around the world. It is a day to unite to remember and commemorate those who have lost their lives at work or from work related injury or disease. This is particularly prominent in the minds of the public at the moment as our brave doctors and nurses battle to keep us all safe, risking their own lives in the process.
Working conditions have much improved in the UK over the last few decades but workers still often find themselves put in danger when simply trying to earn a living or follow their vocation.
One of the hidden dangers of the workplace is asbestos and exposure to asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. The World Health Organisation estimates that 125 million workers worldwide are still regularly exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos is the collective term for a group of naturally occurring mineral fibres and has been utilised by humans for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt asbestos was used in building materials and cloth but it was in the mid-19th century that large scale industrial use of asbestos really began.
Asbestos containing materials were commonly used in the shipbuilding, insulation and construction industries. It was hailed as a miracle product because of its strength, fire retardant and insulation qualities and was used in the majority of buildings in the height of its use in the 1960s.
Although asbestos is still used in several countries around the world, its use in the UK was banned in 2000. By this stage, however, asbestos had been installed into hundreds of thousands of buildings and there has been no mass removal policy.
Schools are one area of particular concern as asbestos was commonly used in temporary school buildings and in more unusual places such as noticeboards. According to the National Education Union (NEU), more than 200 teachers in the UK have died from mesothelioma since 2001. The NEU state that 86% of schools contain asbestos but their survey from November 2019 revealed that only 21% of teachers were aware that they were working in a school with asbestos. This is also concerning for other school users including children, teaching assistance and care takers.
In 2018 it was widely reported that hospitals are a further area for concern with about nine out of 10 NHS trusts saying they have hospitals containing asbestos. According to Health and Safety Executive data, 128 people working in health and social care roles died from the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, between 2011 – 2017. Sadly the presence of asbestos remains a hazard in our public buildings, putting at risk those key workers in our society.
Expert Opinion“Colleagues from the Asbestos Related Disease Team at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office are increasingly coming across teachers, doctors and nurses who have been affected by the asbestos present in their workplaces.
We will be taking a moment on 28 April 2020 to remember all clients, past and present, and the devastating impact this material has had on them and their families.” Rebecca Buxton - Solicitor