It was in 1967 that the Government established a mesothelioma register to record deaths throughout the UK from the fatal malignant cancer which had become known to be only caused by exposure to asbestos.
Although it was increasingly recognised that working with asbestos was causing severe health-related problems to countless numbers of workers, it was a significant breakthrough in helping to raise asbestos awareness of the deadly consequences of exposure to asbestos.
For most of the twentieth century, the dangers were often wilfully neglected by many UK industries dependent on using the cheap insulating material in the manufacture of their particular products.
It would not be until some 15 – 50 years after initial exposure that the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms would emerge and by this late stage, the advanced condition of the disease meant a patient’s survival rate would only be between 4 to 18 months.
Despite the introduction of legislation which led to most asbestos use being finally banned by the late 1970s and 80s, some industries, including construction, were still incorporating chrysotile white asbestos within their products up until the 1990s.
As a result, deaths from mesothelioma have continued to increase over the past 40 years or more, decades after employees were first exposed. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there had been an 100-fold increase between 1968 and just ten years ago with 1,848 cases reported. By 2006, the number had increased again to 2,056. It is currently estimated that current mortality levels together with mesothelioma claim cases could peak by 2015 but still continue until at least 2050.
Undoubtedly, those men and women most affected by mesothelioma will be those who lived and worked in key industrial areas where asbestos material was heavily used in major manufacturing and engineering. Scotland and the North of England were the centres of the UK’s shipbuilding industries where the mineral was used extensively to insulate hot water pipes (ABOVE pic ), fuel lines, boilers, exhaust systems, instrument panels, packing assemblies, and mixed with felts and adhesives.
Shipbuilding workers most exposed to asbestos included shipfitters, machinists, pipe fitters, pipe coverers, boiler makers, electricians, welders, riggers and engineers.
The Health and Safety Executive lists some 20 of the UK’s most affected regions, predominantly involved with shipbuilding :
Scotland: Glasgow / West Dunbartonshire / Inverclyde / Renfrewshire
North Of England: North Tyneside / Sunderland / Newcastle-Upon-Tyne / South Tyneside
Barrow-In-Furness / Gosport / Crewe and Nantwich / Hartlepool
South Of England: Havant / Eastleigh / Plymouth / Portsmouth / Medway / Southampton
Greater London: Barking and Dagenham / Newham