Lack of asbestos awareness to the risk of exposure during it’s peak usage as an insulation and fire retardant product was never simply confined to the most well known ‘black spots’ of British industry, such as shipbuilding and the railways, textile manufacture, iron and steel foundries, building and construction, vehicle assembly.
The continuing rise of fatalities from asbestos-related disease, most notably, mesothelioma, an incurable malignant cancer, often occurs to men and women who were unwittingly exposed to asbestos dust at their workplace. The most notable examples are to be found in schools, colleges, hospitals, department stores, and a variety of offices and commercial premises, built or renovated from the middle to the late decades of the twentieth century.
Industries involved in the manufacture of electrical and engineering systems and components for any number of possible applications were also known to have used asbestos material in their products up until the 1970s and 80s when a ban was introduced in 1998.
Two recent cases of mesothelioma again illustrate the wide extent of asbestos exposure risk for the many thousands of workers during the 1960s, 70s and 80s and even later.
In the first example, a retired boiler room worker who succumbed to mesothelioma, aged 71, was employed in the Merchant Navy and at a power station in South East England. Both are occupational environments very well known for the presence of asbestos material and considered typical asbestos black spots leading to mesothelioma and asbestosis disease.
The second concerns a machine setter and manager in an engineering components firm based in North East England between 1965 and 2008, who died tragically at the relatively young age of 61 from contracting mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, more commonly associated with other industries.
Figures recently released by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that the number of deaths in the UK from mesothelioma, increased from 2,249 in 2008 to 2,321 deaths in 2009. The continuing rise in fatalities can be linked to the unusually long gestation period that elapses from initial exposure and inhalation of the deadly asbestos fibres, which remain permanently within the lung or stomach linings until the emergence of asbestosis symptoms from between 15 to 50 years later.
Currently, over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed annually in the UK and the number of asbestosis claim cases has more than doubled from 574 in 2007 to 1,164 in 2010. It is predicted that a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths are to be expected by 2050.