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IOSH survey finds that more education is needed on asbestos exposure risks

IOSH survey finds that more education is needed on asbestos exposure risks

29 April 2018 Email this article

The Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) has released the results of a survey which suggests that more education is needed on asbestos exposure risks.

Their research has found that one-in-four UK construction workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres, placing them at higher risk of contracting terminal cancers later in life.

And with potentially half a million buildings containing this lethal mineral, employees across many sectors risk being exposed every day – continuing the trend of Britons having the world’s highest chances of dying from mesothelioma, the deadliest asbestos-related cancer.

While the majority were familiar about the risks posed, a third of survey respondents said they had never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site – with nearly half of those not even knowing there is a register. Almost one in five respondents said if they discovered asbestos they wouldn’t be clear about what to do.

Other findings included:

• 59% have been informed of the asbestos risks and have had this reinforced regularly with training; 15 per cent have never been informed

• 23% say they have been exposed to asbestos; with only 27 per cent saying they haven’t been exposed

• 32% have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, with 15 per cent of these not knowing about the register

• 18% said that if they found asbestos they would either be unsure or have no idea what to do

The UK banned asbestos in 1999, but many buildings constructed before this time contain it. It can be found in many products including roofing, spray coatings, lagging, insulating boards, ropes, yarns and cloth.

Asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye. When breathed in, they can stick into the lining of the lungs, causing serious illnesses over time, including fatal cancers like mesothelioma.

With at least 5,000 people in Britain dying every year from an asbestos-related cancer caused by exposure at work, leading scientists and safety and health experts have expressed concern about the findings. Along with IOSH, they are calling on employers across all sectors to ensure they do not expose employees.

Dr Lesley Rushton, the new Chair of the UK’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and a leading expert on workplace carcinogens, commented: “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.”