Global Asbestos Awareness Week, 1-7 April 2017, is dedicated to educating people about the risk of the highly dangerous material and how to manage it in order to prevent related diseases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates currently around 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). In addition, several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos.
Closer to home, asbestos kills around 20 tradesmen each week in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
But what can be done to lower and eventually put a stop to asbestos-related diseases? First of all, legislation must be put into place in the countries where it doesn’t yet exist, eliminating the use of asbestos and replacing it with safer substitutes. In the UK the use of asbestos is prohibited but as it was used in commercial buildings, homes, workplaces and schools until 1999, any buildings constructed before that date may be contaminated.
The next step in the fight against asbestos-related diseases is then to take measures to prevent exposure when it is known to be present and during its safe removal. To do this, specialists must be employed to locate and identify asbestos. In the even it is found in a premises it must also be managed, removed and disposed of by specialists.
In the UK, legislation is in place that ensures these safety measures are in place. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 outlines that any work site, especially one that the public could access, needs to ensure that any asbestos is registered, maintained and eventually removed. This legislation means that a duty holder, usually the owner of the building, must:
- take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in;
- presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not;
- make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos- containing materials - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos;
- assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified;
- prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed;
- take the necessary steps to put the plan into action;
- periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date;
- provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.
When these regulations are breached, something we unfortunately see all too often despite the potentially severe consequences, the courts hand out appropriate sentencing to further raise awareness of how seriously asbestos safeguarding should be taken.
Global Asbestos Awareness Week recognises the risks imposed on thousands of people around the world. Diseases like mesothelioma are not an historic issue, but one that will continue to affect future generations until the manufacturing and use of asbestos is brought to an end.
Julian Cason is a personal injury associate specialising in mesothelioma claims at Slater and Gordon in Cardiff.
For more information, please see our previous legal case studies.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a specialist team of asbestos compensation solicitors that deal with asbestos claims on a no win no fee basis. For a free consultation call 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.