After finding that the UK has the worst asbestos health related problems in the world, a new report from Risk Management consultants Lucion Services is demanding more and better safety measures on the presence of ACMs (asbestos containing materials) at work.
Entitled ‘Why the UK needs tighter asbestos controls’, the report uses a wide range of published research and analysis to make comparisons between the asbestos health and safety situation in the UK with other countries – with a specific emphasis on the prevalence of the material in hospitals and schools.
The study highlights how the cumulative effects of chronic low-level exposure to asbestos still embedded in UK public buildings will continue to have an impact long into the future. Bearing in mind the younger age of first exposure and the increased life expectancy of children, more pupils than ever are vulnerable to the deterioration of asbestos materials in schools.
The UK was once the world’s largest importer of asbestos and it was commonly used in building materials throughout the 1950s and 1960s, It was considered to be a ‘miracle mineral’ , and commonly used for many purposes including insulation, fireproofing and soundproofing.
Once asbestos was found to be lethal its use was increasingly limited through various forms of workplace and asbestos regulations – including the key Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012). However its widespread use – any premises built or refurbished before the year 2000 can contain it – means its is still present in many offices, schools, houses, retailers and hospitals.
Paper author and Chief Technical Officer at Lucion, Charles Pickles, commented:
“There is now serious and growing concern over current exposure levels from asbestos that remains in situ because the materials themselves have either been damaged and or are degrading, increasing the likelihood of fibres being released into the air.
In the circumstances, rather than inspecting building materials for damage, the measurement of airborne fibres would enable the risk to the health of occupants to be directly measured and cost effective asbestos abatement to be carried out.
UK health and safety law is based on the commensurate adoption of best practice as and when it becomes available. Regrettably this has not been the case with asbestos analysis methods and the time has come for the introduction of more effective control limits to ensure that occupational exposure assessments are capable of proving that buildings are indeed safe for continued use.”
The World Health Organisation estimates that 107,000 global annual deaths are caused by mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis.
Fifty-six per cent of all mesothelioma deaths and 41 per cent of all asbestosis deaths recorded worldwide occurred in Europe, which accommodates 13 per cent of the world’s population. Europe accounted for 60 per cent of the reported global deaths from asbestos-related diseases, excluding asbestos-induced lung cancer.
Other European countries such as the Netherlands and France have introduced far tighter asbestos controls and occupational exposure limits, despite not having the historically high levels of asbestos use compared with the UK.
Accordingly, the paper concludes that the UK must adopt the type of rigorous workplace controls and safety measures that are in force in other European countries to ensure for the protection of workers and children against asbestos exposure.