Plan Insurance Blog

Why Is Asbestos Still A Problem In Today’s Britain?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that asbestos could still be lurking in up to 1.5 million workplaces across Britain, as well as in many homes, despite efforts to eradicate it.

Asbestos is not just a thing of the past. Surprisingly, it remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with more than 5,000 lives claimed by its devastating effects each year.

Plan Insurance can accommodate your Property Owners & Landlord Insurance needs. Just fill in our short call back form, and our professional brokers will be in contact to arrange your insurance.

What actually is Asbestos?

This mineral, still mined in parts of Africa today, has a long history of use dating back to 2400 BC, when it was used to craft pots and cooking utensils. However, awareness of its health hazards emerged as early as the 20th century. In 1918, the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics reported on the early deaths of asbestos workers, and in 1930, the UK Merewether report led to regulations on the manufacturing of asbestos products, but not their installation. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1999 that the UK finally banned asbestos importation and use.

Asbestos boasts remarkable thermal and acoustic insulating properties. These qualities led to its inclusion in a wide range of products and buildings. From fire blankets and oven gloves to various insulation materials like cladding, gutters, partitions, pipe lagging, and floor and ceiling tiles. Before the truth about Asbestos was uncovered, it found its way into our everyday lives.

Shockingly, an estimated 6 million tons of asbestos were imported into the UK between 1900 and 1999. These fibres were combined with other materials such as magnesia, cement, and more to create asbestos products. At an average asbestos content of 20% in the final product, that amounts to a staggering 30 million tons of contaminated material.

Who is at Risk and Who is Responsible?

The root cause of asbestos-related diseases is the inhalation of asbestos fibres. These diseases, including asbestosis, asbestosis with lung cancer, and mesothelioma, often have a latency period of 15-35 years. They can unfortunately be fatal.

The nature of those at risk has evolved over time. Today, it’s the builders and allied trades who face potential exposure to asbestos present in buildings. Building contractors, joiners, shop fitters, plumbers, heating engineers, electricians, and computer cabling contractors are the most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, legacy asbestos has claimed the lives of workers worldwide for decades.

Taking Responsibility for Asbestos

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 says that commercial building owners are responsible for identifying asbestos in their premises. It is essential to maintain an Asbestos Register, documenting the location and condition of all identified asbestos within the building. This register must be made available to contractors to ensure they fulfill their duty of protecting employees from asbestos exposure.

In addition, the pursuit of net-zero targets is likely to increase exposure to asbestos. The additional work involved in insulating buildings is expected to result in more construction employees disturbing and being exposed to legacy asbestos in buildings. This highlights the urgency to manage this risk effectively.

Surprisingly, asbestos still lurks within many public buildings, including hospitals and schools. A significant portion of these institutions, constructed between the 1950s and 1999, may contain asbestos. The potential risks for those retrofitting or working in these buildings, as well as students attending them, demand urgent attention. A comprehensive national plan to address these risks is sorely lacking.

The human cost of Asbestos

Last year, Wayne Osbourne was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer caused, almost exclusively by breathing in asbestos fibres. He was exposed when he had a job replacing worn brake linings in HGVs.

Wayne says, “They were made of asbestos. We were never told it could be dangerous. There was no proper ventilation, and we weren’t supplied with any protective equipment, except occasionally masks that were of no use at all. When you look back it seems criminal.”

Osborne now battles the disease, unsure of how much time he has left. Similar tales of unsuspecting victims experiencing sudden symptoms and receiving grim prognoses highlight the obvious need for awareness and preventive measures.

One of the insidious aspects of mesothelioma is its long latency period. Symptoms often appear decades after initial exposure. By the time patients seek medical help, the disease has typically advanced, severely limiting treatment options. The absence of a cure further exacerbates the emotional and psychological toll on both patients and their families.

Governments simply aren’t doing enough

Despite recommendations by the parliamentary work and pensions committee, the UK government has rejected proposals for a 40-year asbestos removal program and a national database. Concerns arise that the true extent of the problem is being ignored, prompting calls for transparency and decisive action. Other European countries have taken steps to address asbestos-related issues more proactively. Why isn’t the UK government doing more?

Is Asbestos a time bomb waiting to explode?

Many commentators believe that there is a refusal by the government to acknowledge the severity of the asbestos problem and implement necessary measures is a cause for concern. Their counter-argument is that disturbing the asbestos via a wide-scale program of removal presents a higher public health risk.

Yet, industry experts warn of a ticking time bomb, with the potential for a surge in inadequately marshaled removals when asbestos-containing buildings reach the end of their lifespan. The government’s reluctance to address the issue has raised questions about whether financial considerations are being prioritised over public health and safety considerations.

The persistence of asbestos-related diseases, coupled with the lack of a comprehensive national plan, exposes the dire need for action. Should, at the very least a high-profile national awareness campaign be commissioned to reaffirm in the public’s minds the serious nature of the substance and its abundance.

Asbestos continues to claim a large number of lives each year, with no end in sight. The government must confront the issue head-on, prioritising the health and well-being of its citizens. Failure to act will perpetuate unnecessary suffering and loss of life. In the meantime, as a business owner, you should at least take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your employees with adequate training.

Find out why 96% of our customers have rated us 4 stars or higher by reading our reviews on Feefo.

To get a quote give our specialist teams a call on 0800 542 2743 or request a Call Back.

Already a client? Why not recommend us to your contacts in exchange for a £50 discount off your renewal with our Refer a Friend scheme.