More than half of work-related deaths from six major cancers in the UK are due to asbestos, according to a recent London-based public health report, and estimates are greater than those currently used in UK health and safety strategy planning.

Even though the use of asbestos was banned in the UK well over 10 years ago and the deadly material is constantly being removed from buildings and sites where it has been discovered, elsewhere it remains, most often in insulating pipes, ducts, ceilings and hidden partitions.

Raising asbestos awareness, by organisations like the HSE, have been a key factor in driving legislation and alerting industry and factory employees to the potential dangers of their occupation and working environment, information and action nearly always lacking or worse, withheld in many industries working with asbestos throughout much of the twentieth century.

However, increasingly it has been found that asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma, most often associated with men working in asbestos-processing factories and shipyards, have started to emerge in other professions, including electricians, plumbers, garage mechanics, teachers and even hairdressers.

Certain cancers are also being reclassified as sufficient evidence is now available to show that asbestos also causes cancer of the larynx (throat) and of the ovary.

The true level of asbestos-related deaths can sometimes be partially disguised by lung cancer sufferers who attribute smoking at some stage in their life as a cause rather than making a connection to asbestos and consequently, fail to seek asbestos advice.

The HSE takes the view that for every death from mesothelioma, there has been another asbestos-related lung cancer fatality and suggest that the UK epidemic will peak in the middle of the next decade with about 5,000 deaths a year.

One expert has also suggested that as many as 36,000 to 90,000 people a year may be developing pleural plaques, although obtaining asbestos compensation is difficult as there is almost likely to be little discernable impaired lung function or disability.