Simmering anger over the terms agreed for the Mesothelioma Bill in early January 2014 and due to come into force in July are still being expressed around the country. The Bill negotiated with the insurers allows for only those victims diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25 July 2012 to be eligible for compensation and only 75 per cent of the compensation amount will be paid.

Accompanying the growing strength of feeling by politicians, asbestosis lawyers and mesothelioma victim support groups alike, comes updated reports of the standardised mortality ratio, which shows the still high numbers of fatalities, especially in many of the traditional British industrial, asbestos blackspots.

The standardised mortality ratio (SMR) is defined as the ratio of observed deaths in a “control” study group, which can be scaled up and applied to forecast the number of expected deaths in the general population.

Calculating SMR for a study group is based on specific groups of categories in the population being studied, e.g. using the number of persons in each age group, the age specific death rates of the general population in the same age groups and the observed deaths in the study population.

High SMR in asbestos blackspots

However, SMR is also used to identify asbestos blackspots. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has calculated the mesothlioma SMR for different geographical regions as a ratio to the average mesothelioma mortality rate for the total British population.

Where the total UK mesothelioma mortality rate is expressed as 100, a region with an SMR of 200 would have a mortality rate of twice the national average, and a SMR of 50 would represent a mortality rate of only half the national average.

It is not surprising that the SMR rate would be still high in cities and regional areas where asbestos was commonly used as an inexpensive anti corrosion and heat resistant insulator in many UK factories, foundries, engineering works, shipyards and construction sites.

Large concentration in shipyard areas

Between the 1940s and 1970s and up until asbestos was first banned in the mid 1980s, the two regions with the highest SMRs – the North East and Scotland – were both characterised by a large concentration of employment in the shipbuilding and related industries.

Even though a large part of the workforce were employed in the highest risk occupations of metal working, welding and fitting, lack of asbestos awareness to the long-term dangers meant little information or personal protection was available.

Recent SMR figures show that in the North East, there are 104 asbestos related deaths per million people compared with the national average of 65, but the figures can be far higher, as clearly illustrated in the following areas:

  • Hartlepool (240 asbestos related deaths per million people)
  • Stockton-on-Tees (211)
  • Sunderland (230)
  • South Tyneside (317)
  • Redcar and Cleveland (167)
  • Middlesbrough (140)

In the docks and shipyards and industry related areas of the south east, the figures can be double the national average:

  • Southampton (282)
  • Eastleigh (253)
  • Gosport (240)
  • Fareham (208)
  • Winchester (139)
  • New Forest (133)
  • Test Valley (130)

Fatalities on upward trend

The HSE state 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed annually in the UK, and fatalities continue on an upward trend. According to recent figures, there was a sharp rise from 2,156 deaths in 2007 to 2,249 in 2008, which increased to 2,321 in 2009 and reached 2,347 in 2010.

The continuing high number of mesothlioma fatalities from exposure decades earlier is not going to dramatically stop anytime soon. It is another reason why many who support the efforts to claim rightful justice for victims and their families are deeply worried over the forthcoming Mesothelioma Bill.