According to the latest available figures from 2008, there were 2,250 deaths from the asbestos related disease, mesothelioma, which is still responsible for causing around 4,000 fatalities, annually, from all asbestosis diseases as a result of initial asbestos exposure up to 50 years ago.
A long gestation period often meant that asbestosis symptoms would only appear at the latter stages of the disease and a prognosis of between 4 to 18 months.
A number of Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations were introduced to ban asbestos in the workplace, which progressed slowly during the latter part of the twentieth century, culminating in the prohibition of white asbestos ( chrysotile) in 1999.
A “duty to manage” policy was introduced to provided further protection against asbestos exposure, leading finally to the comprehensive Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2006.
Asbestos awareness to the deadly risks by company employers and employees could be said to be much improved as a result of legislation, Health & Safety Executive (HSE) campaigns and the highlighting of mesothelioma compensation paid to the many unfortunate victims of workplace asbestos exposure.
The stark reality is that a high risk is still faced by those who today work in environments where asbestos remains largely hidden and undisturbed in buildings, large-scale machinery or equipment due for renovation, dismantling or demolition.
The list of workers at risk includes :
Construction workers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, heating engineers, HVAC workers, ship or industrial boiler maintenance, steamfitters, insulators, engineers, demolition crews.
A non-domestic premises require whoever manages the building to keep records of the location of all possible asbestos and its’ condition, along with a risk management and disposal plan of action before any work where asbestos exists can commence.
In addition, professional trade workers such as plumbers, electricians and builders should receive three levels of training for asbestos awareness – non-licensed and licensed – which allow for the handling of asbestos at different levels of risk.
Throughout much of the UK’s industrial, engineering and construction past, asbestos was widely used as a relatively inexpensive insulating material. Asbestos gaskets, jackets and protective packing were commonly produced as late as the 1980s for large working machinery such as boilers, generators, turbines and pumps found in manufacturing plants, naval vessels, commercial buildings, schools and homes.
Over the years, it is likely that the asbestos material would have become considerably worn, deteriorated and damaged from exposure to heat, moisture, or weathering. Friable ( disintegrating) asbestos material is highly dangerous if any attempt is made to handle, and will release the deadly fibre dust in to the air, which can be easily inhaled.
The correct and regulatory procedures for containment and disposal by authorised and approved asbestos contractors must be adhered to whenever asbestos material is suspected of being present in any building or machinery.