The HSE has published latest statistics (collated up to 2016) regarding deaths caused by exposure to asbestos.
Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening.
There were 2,595 mesothelioma deaths in 2016 and is estimated that there were, in addition, a similar number of deaths due to asbestos-related lung cancer.
There are four main diseases associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres.
- Mesothelioma – a form of cancer mainly affecting the lining of the lungs
- Asbestos related lung cancer
- Asbestosis – a non-malignant scarring of the lung tissue
- Non malignant pleural disease (diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques)
Deaths from asbestosis (a form of pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres) continue to increase in Great Britain, a legacy of heavy exposures to asbestos in the past.
The latest statistics for deaths where asbestosis contributed as a cause of death based on the Asbestosis Register show:
- Deaths mentioning asbestosis (excluding those that also mention “mesothelioma”) have increased substantially over a number of decades: there were 500 such deaths in 2016 compared with around 100 per year in the late 1970s. Typically, in recent years, around 2-3% of these deaths were among women.
- In over half of these deaths in 2016, asbestos was mentioned on the death certificate, but not as the underlying cause of death.
- Deaths also mentioning mesothelioma are excluded, since here the term “asbestosis” may have been used incorrectly to indicate the role of asbestos fibres in causing the separate disease mesothelioma. There were 36 such deaths in 2016.
- There were 218 deaths in 2016 where asbestosis was recorded as the underlying cause of death (defined as the disease or injury that initiated the events leading directly to death).
- Interpretation of these figures is further complicated by the fact that cases of asbestosis may sometimes not be recorded as such because they may be mistaken for other types of lung fibrosis – or recorded as “idiopathic” cases (i.e. lung fibrosis without a known cause)5 – or may go undiagnosed.
Most mesothelioma deaths occurring now are a legacy of past occupational exposures to asbestos when it was widely used in the building industry.
The latest information shows:
- There were 2,595 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain in 2016, broadly similar to the previous four years.
- The latest projections suggest that there will continue to be around 2,500 deaths per year for the rest of this current decade before annual numbers begin to decline.
- Annual deaths are continuing to increase among those aged 75 years or over, but are reducing among those aged below 70 years.
- In 2016 there were 2,197 male deaths and 398 female deaths, broadly similar to the annual numbers among males and females in the previous four years.
- There were 2,170 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) in 2016 of which 240 were female, compared with 2,130 in 2015 of which 220 were female.
- Men who worked in the building industry when asbestos was used extensively are now among those most at risk of mesothelioma.