The number of men falling victim to mesothelioma cancer has been revised up from a peak of 2,038 each year by 2016 to between 49,000 and 58,000 deaths over the next twenty five years, based on latest figures from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Previously, 85 per cent of all mesothelioma deaths occurred amongst previous generations of men who worked with asbestos during Britain’s peak period of use in the workplace from the 1940s through to the late 1970s. However, the number of mesothelioma cases has actually increased almost four-fold since the first UK asbestos ban was introduced in the mid 1980s.
A worrying trend has emerged, which indicates that male mortality caused by more recent ‘historical’ exposure to asbestos is continuing to claim the lives of men (and women) just into their early 60s.
Failure to provide adequate protection
In a recently reported case, a former carpenter was diagnosed with the fatal cancer of the lung linings after more than 25 years of working at a council housing agency where he often worked directly with asbestos-containing materials, before leaving in 2010.
Typically, the victim describes how his employers had “contributed to his exposure” by failing to provide adequate protection, which would have prevented him from breathing in the airborne asbestos fibre dust particles.
It’s an all too-familiar story often recounted by countless thousands of men who were daily exposed to the toxic fibre dust at their place of work during the 1950s, 60s and 70s when asbestos awareness to the long term health risks were often played down by employers.
Yet, awareness and concern over working with asbestos have been raised by doctors and medical researchers since early in the twentieth century, and regulations governing exposure risk were slowly introduced by various Factory Acts in England and Wales.
Firms still prosecuted for breaching Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
Prior to the introduction of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, which combines all previous statutory requirements, there was the first Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, which was upgraded to the Asbestos Regulations in May 1970.
This was followed by the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers to “conduct their work in such a way that their employees will not be exposed to health and safety risks and to provide information to other people about their workplace which might affect their health and safety.”
Many firms who are investigated for failing to observe the statutory regulations for working with asbestos are still prosecuted for breaching sections of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The use of the most toxic asbestos types began to slowly decline from this time as imports were reduced. Nevertheless, white asbestos was still used throughout the building industry as a cost-effective method of insulation and fire-proofing until imports halted in 1999.
Workers never stopped being directly exposed
Despite of the final UK ban, builders, carpenters and other construction trade workers have never stopped being directly exposed to asbestos materials. HSE estimate that more than 1.8 million people come into occupational contact with asbestos, and an average of 20 tradesmen lose their lives every week to mesothelioma or suffer with asbestosis disease.
The incidence of males and females in their early 60s who were exposed to asbestos at work during the1970s and 80s at least, appears to be on the rise. Up to 50 years may elapse from initial exposure to the emergence of asbestosis symptoms. It is therefore, not unexpected that more tragic cases of men and women falling victim to mesothlioma and asbestos-related diseases are forecast to 2037 and beyond.