Every year 1.8 million people in the UK are exposed to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed. Between 2007 and 2008, deaths from mesothelioma increased by three per cent to 2,249.
The high figures never fail to shock when compared to the 2,940 people killed on British roads – just 691 more than those who died from mesothelioma over the same period. Even the 1,431 deaths among car users alone in 2007 was 818 less than the mesothelioma mortality rate.
It was not until the mid 1980s that the widespread use of different forms of asbestos in UK industry and manufacturing was banned, but white chrysotile asbestos continued to be used in wall boards and textured surface coating as a heating insulation material in the construction and renovation of both domestic and commercial property until the end of the twentieth century.
Yet not a week seems to go by without more cases being heard in court of building contractors whose apparent lack of asbestos awareness means they fail to carry out an asbestos survey as required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The most recent example occurred in April 2010 during refurbishment work at a commercial premises in Swansea resulting in the firm being brought to court and fined a total of £14,148 including full costs.
A lack of any pre-work asbestos survey, including a health and safety plan and provision of protective clothing, which is legally required to detect the presence of the deadly material, led to asbestos containing materials(ACMs) being inadvertently disturbed by construction workers employed by the company. As a result, asbestos fibre dust particles were released into the surrounding air.
Once asbestos fibres are inhaled, they remain permanently lodged in the linings of the lungs ( pleura). Over a long period of between 10 – 50 years, asbestosis disease slowly develops, causing either thickening or scarring of the lung tissue or the formation of cancerous tumours of the incurable cancer, mesotheliopma. Asbestosis symptoms may not be at first recognised due to their similarity to other common respiratory ailments such as influenza or bronchitis.
Frequently, a confirmed diagnosis comes at a very late stage in the spread of the disease, and too often the cancer has spread to the stomach lining , or sometimes the heart membrane. Prognosis for a patient can be less than 6 months. With a three year period within which to pursue a mesothelioma claim, diagnosing asbestos-related disease at the earliest possible time can be assisted by seeking information and asbestos advice if exposure at any time is suspected.