Frequent reporting in the press has helped raise better asbestos awareness to its continuing presence in many public, commercial and residential buildings around the country, from schools, hospitals, libraries and department stores to factories, foundries, assembly plants, housing estates and private dwellings.
However, widespread use of asbestos as an insulating / friction material throughout most of the twentieth century also extended to other public, automotive and engineering applications, the most well known being shipbuilding ( boilers and pipework), car production ( brake and gear pads) – and not forgetting, railway construction.
The railways, in particular have been recently highlighted when it was reported that asbestos fibres were claimed to be present everywhere across the entire London Underground network, especially at the eastern end of the Central line. Transport for London ( TfL) have stated that passengers and staff “are not at risk…” and controls are compliant with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
The use of asbestos fibres to form inexpensive insulation materials often caused heavy volumes of dust to be generated while being worked with or generally handled. A combination of withheld or minimal information and a lack of protective equipment or clothing meant that thousands of workers were daily exposed in their workplaces, and inhaled the deadly fibre dust.
In 2011, the death of a former British Rail coach builder, aged 92, from Derbyshire who worked with asbestos insulation for most of his working life, repaired railway carriages and was said to be constantly surrounded by” a cloud of asbestos”.
Over 141 deaths, including 59 carriageworks coachbuilders have known to have died from the incurable, asbestosis disease, mesothelioma, in York. At least five or six mesothelioma cases are confirmed in York every year, and around nine fatalities in the previous 12 to 18 months.
Once asbestos fibres are breathed in, they remain permanently lodged within the lung linings ( pleura) and can spread to the adjacent stomach linings ( peritoneum) or even the heart membrane ( pericardium). An exceptionally long latency period of between 15 to 50 years nearly always means that asbestosis symptoms only tend to emerge at a late stage of the disease, Survival rates from a confirmed diagnosis are often less than 6 months.
It was only during the course of the 1960s and 1970s that asbestos regulations were introduced, which aimed to minimise workers risk, but actual usage only began to be prohibited from the mid 1980s and a final ban ( white asbestos) introduced in 1999.
According to the Health & Safety Executive(HSE), in 2009, a sharp rise to 2321 deaths in the UK from mesothelioma was recorded and 2,000 cases continue to be diagnosed.