A survey of 500 construction workers found that almost a third, 32%, have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site. Almost half of these, or 15% of the respondents, do not know about asbestos registers. Furthermore, nearly one in four workers, 23%, said that they believed they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres. Only 27% reported that they had not been exposed.
Regarding training and information, 59% of respondents said that they had been informed of the risks posed by asbestos and this was regularly reinforced through training. However, 15% said they had never been informed. Almost one in five, 18%, said that they would either be unsure or have no idea what to do if they found asbestos.[i]
Dr Lesley Rushton, the new Chair of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, who conducted many of the studies of the burden of occupational cancer in the UK, said:
‘What these new survey results confirm is that, while people have heard of asbestos and know what the effects of being exposed to it are, they’re not sure how to check if it’s present and they may not know what to do if they find asbestos.
Uncertainty and ignorance surrounding how to prevent workers from breathing in the fibres is deeply worrying.
This is particularly the case among small companies, sole traders and older workers. It is crucial that we reach them, to inform them of the risks and how these can be managed, to ensure their future health is not compromised’. [ii]
Asbestos exposure is associated with diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. These diseases share a long latency period, particularly mesothelioma. This means that the disease presents itself many years after exposure. This means that if today’s workers are unaware of exposure risks, there will continue to be cases of asbestos-related disease and claims for the next 40 years.
[i] Third of UK construction workers fail to check asbestos registers. IOSH Magazine. 9 April 2018. https://www.ioshmagazine.com/article/third-uk-construction-workers-fail-check-asbestos-registers (Accessed 12 April 2018)
[ii] “Uncertainty and ignorance” risks more asbestos deaths. IOSH. 9 April 2018. https://www.iosh.co.uk/News/No-Time-to-Lose-asbestos.aspx (Accessed 12 April 2018)