In England, some 15 teachers a year are dying of asbestos related cancer. The UK Health and Safety Executive released figures stating that between 1991 and 2000 147 teachers died from the untreatable cancer mesothelioma. When it took into account education assistants, nursery nurses and university lecturers the figures doubled. These figures could even be higher if other support staff, such as caretakers, maintenance staff and cleaners, are taken into account.
The history of asbestos is one of cover up and lies in the name of profit. The dangers of asbestos have been known about for over a hundred years. But the profits to be made from asbestos production ensured that the truth about the deadly nature of asbestos was withheld.
This has resulted in millions of workers dying from asbestos-related diseases round the world. In Britain alone over 5,000 people a year die as a result of inhaling asbestos, this figure is predicted to rise to 10,000 a year by 2010.
Shockingly even though the dangers of asbestos are now widely known asbestos is still mined in places such as Canada and still extensively used throughout the developing world. In Britain its use in construction began to be phased out in the late 1970s but according to the Health & Safety Executive asbestos containing materials (ACMs) was used in buildings constructed or refurbished before blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1985. In some cases ACMs, such as asbestos cement, were used up until 1999.
Workers should not simply rely on management to ensure that asbestos is handled properly. Current legislation allows asbestos to remain in place as long as it is not disturbed. This is largely due to cost; asbestos is so widespread in buildings that the cost of removing it would be massive. Managers may claim that the asbestos present in buildings is safe in order to avoid the cost of removing it.
All workplaces should have undertaken an asbestos survey and have in place an asbestos management plan. All workers should raise the issue with their managers. Get them to check if asbestos is present where you work and make sure that it is not likely to be disturbed.