Asbestos still putting lives at risk 20 years since ban, says IOSH

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Lives are still being put at risk by companies failing to manage exposure to asbestos, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)

Since the start of last year, 135 companies or individuals have been ordered to cease work activities because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations, with a further 130 being warned they must improve.

A further 31 companies or individuals have been prosecuted for breaches, with fines ranging from £1 to £200,000 and some directors being given prison sentences. The latest company to be sentenced was a Devon-based hotelier, which was fined £80,000 after asbestos-containing materials were disturbed during refurbishment work.

While these companies are being hit in the pocket, the human cost of asbestos exposure at work is far greater, with at least 5,000 deaths every year in Britain being linked to it.

While it takes 20 years or more for exposure to lead to a cancer diagnosis, the IOSH is concerned that the number of buildings containing asbestos and a widespread lack of awareness and uncertainty on how to manage it – particularly among SMEs – means people will continue to become seriously ill in decades to come.

Despite being banned in 1999, it is present in at least half a million buildings constructed before this time, lurking in roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards and cloth.

IOSH is calling on organisations to manage risks more responsibly and stop people being exposed to asbestos, which can lead to fatal cancers like mesothelioma.

IOSH’s chief executive Bev Messinger will address delegates at the International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference in Washington DC on 6 April, highlighting the institution’s No Time to Lose campaign to tackle occupational cancer.

Messinger said: “Thousands die in Britain every year from cancers like mesothelioma, while many more are diagnosed with it. We must also consider the families of these people, who watch their loved ones suffer. All this is preventable through good occupational safety and health. It is time for organisations to wake up and realise how dangerous asbestos is. There are no excuses.”

An IOSH-funded survey last year found there was a worrying lack of awareness among tradespeople about asbestos. Of 500 respondents, including electricians, carpenters, joiners and roofers, nearly one in four said they had been exposed to asbestos, while one in three admitted to never checking the asbestos register before starting work on a new site.

Through its No Time to Lose campaign, IOSH is raising awareness of occupational cancer and some of the most common causes.

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