The causes of asbestos related disease at work have reduced markedly since it was made illegal to mine, manufacture or use the material at the end of the last century. This legal ban came into force for both crocidolite (blue) asbestos and brown asbestos in 1985 and for chrysotile (white) asbestos in 1999.
Prior to this ban, workers were exposed in the course of their employment to the dangerous tiny, elongated asbestos fibres from:
- The dust produced in the mining operation and transportation
- The numerous fabrication operations to incorporate asbestos into composite materials such as roof sheeting, plastic tiles and textiles
- Working with these composite materials in many further manufacturing processes and in the construction industry
Any industrial or manufacturing process that sanded, cut, drilled or crushed the composite materials would release the carcinogenic asbestos fibres into the air where workers could inhale them, sometimes in high quantities and over a prolonged length of time. Such disturbance of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) will create the same hazard today.
Asbestos was the wonder material of the twentieth century, highly prized and much utilised for its remarkable thermo-mechanical properties, but in an age when worker health and safety did not hold the position of importance it does today its toxic nature was not at first recognised and then only incrementally addressed as the latent effects of fibre inhalation eventually manifested themselves in a range of acute illnesses. In particular, breathing in fibres from asbestos is associated with four main diseases;
- Asbestosis – which involves a non-cancerous scarring of lung tissue
- Asbestos related lung cancer
- Mesothelioma – a type of form of cancer which principally damages the lining of the lungs
- Pleural thickening and pleural plaques
Since the ban on the extraction and use of asbestos came into force the causes of asbestos related disease in the workplace have changed and become primarily a legacy problem which contractors of all types, working on pre 2000 sites and in buildings where ACMs are present, have to negotiate as safely as possible. Bearing in mind that asbestos fibres are to be found in composite materials as diverse as cement, floor tiles, sprayed coatings, insulating boards, roof sheeting, wall panels, ovens, heating systems, pipes, pipe lagging and fire blankets and flame resistant textiles, not to mention ACM dust in floor and ceiling cavities, it is often impossible to carry out maintenance, repair or demolition work without risking a release of toxic asbestos fibres into the atmosphere.
Despite the ban, the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive [the HSE] continue to report a significant number of asbestos related disease victims. In the latest available figures, dating from 2010, the HSE records 2347 deaths from mesothelioma, along with approximately 2000 deaths from asbestos related lung cancer.
However with the dangers of asbestos now well-known and work with the material tightly controlled by extensive asbestos specific and other health and safety legislation and guidance from the Health and Safety Executive, contractors can deal with this often hidden hazard from the past without putting their operatives in danger.
Tim Bishop is senior partner of Bonallack and Bishop, specialist Salisbury personal injury and medical negligence solicitors. For help with making a claim for personal injury compensation, call their team on 01722 422300.Alternatively, to find out more about claiming compensation, visit their specialist website at http://www.the-personal-injury-solicitors.co.uk.