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Written on 20th February 2020 by

The most recent Health and Safety Executive statistics, published on 30 October 2019, confirm that mesothelioma continues to be responsible for over 2,500 deaths a year.

Mesothelioma is one of the asbestos-related diseases that we see most commonly as asbestos claims solicitors. We helped 16 people, who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma after asbestos exposure, and their families.

Deaths from mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases have increased annually over the last 50 years and are expected to continue at current levels for the rest of the decade.

The UK-Europe asbestos link

Although asbestos was finally banned in the UK in 1999, between 1920 and 2000, Europe produced more than 50% of all the asbestos traded throughout the world. The UK imported more asbestos per capita than any other country and now has the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe.

A publication in December 2018 by French organisation Eurogip highlighted the human costs of asbestos consumption in key European countries: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.

Asbestos related disease in Europe

The Eurogip report found that in every country, except Germany, cancers due to inhaled asbestos dust accounted for the overwhelming majority of the recognised deaths from occupational disease in 2016.

Previously it was expected that the annual deaths as a result of asbestos related diseases would decline but this hasn't happened. The HSE has an expectation that the number of deaths from asbestos related diseases will decline by the end of the decade. This seems a little optimistic, not least because the UK is lagging behind other European countries in looking after those at higher risk.

The UK led the way in 2002 when it introduced a new duty on those responsible for non-domestic buildings to locate and manage asbestos materials. The UK, however, is far behind other European countries in terms of screening, monitoring, asbestos removal and management. Where other European countries have implemented policies encouraging and subsidising asbestos removal the UK has yet to follow suit.

In Germany medical examinations are performed every 12 to 36 months by specially trained doctors. This allows nationwide monitoring of asbestos exposed employees. There is no such scheme in the UK despite evidence that screening for those at high risk of lung cancer could reduce deaths from the disease.

The Dutch Government have set a deadline of 2024 for the removal of all asbestos cement roofing. They are even allowing State funds to help those who do not have the financial means to pay themselves.

The Polish Government have set a 2032 deadline to remove asbestos from the country’s infrastructure.

In Italy there was a consultation in 2018 with a view to providing financial incentives for replacing asbestos roofing with other systems.

UK asbestos failings

ResPublica, a London based independent think tank, produced a report in November 2019 regarding the state of asbestos regulation in the UK.

There are estimated to be about 6 million tonnes of asbestos spread across 1.5 million buildings in the UK, with about 80% of schools and 94% of NHS trusts containing it.

The UK’s failure to address the issue of exposure to asbestos in schools continues to endanger the health of children and staff.  

Nearly a quarter of schools have failed to provide information regarding the extent of asbestos in their buildings and information on how the risks are being managed.

The UK Government needs to bring requirements for the management of asbestos up to the highest international standards, practiced in Germany, the Netherlands and France.

There is still an assumption that the harm caused by asbestos is an historical issue relating to traditionally hazardous occupations and industries. As we are aware this is far from true and underestimates the dangers of chronic low-level exposure from working in buildings containing asbestos. Heavy exposure to asbestos is not needed for the development of mesothelioma.

Worryingly, there has been an increase in the number of younger mesothelioma sufferers. These young sufferers are likely to have been exposed to asbestos at an earlier age and will have had significantly less exposure than older sufferers.

Mesothelioma can develop as a result of low levels of asbestos exposure often taking many years to develop. We find it incredibly concerning that young adults, and indeed teenagers, are now suffering from what was originally thought of as an “old man’s disease”.

What can the UK do about its asbestos problem?

UK regulations state that asbestos should be maintained in situ rather than removed. However it should only be maintained provided it is in a

“good condition and well protected either by its position or physical protection”

The ResPublica report suggests the creation of a central register of all asbestos in public buildings across the UK. The central register should identify the precise location, type and condition of the asbestos. It calls on the Government to commission a cost-benefit analysis of the removal of all asbestos from public buildings.

We share the concern that there is a ticking asbestos timebomb in public buildings, particularly schools and hospitals, and that more can be done. Mesothelioma is an entirely preventable disease and with the increasing state of decay in UK public buildings more must be done.

For more information about making a claim if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease contact our experts by email on idclaims@boyesturner.com.