In 1996, Clydebank was given the title of Britain’s ‘asbestos capital’ due to the area’s prolific shipbuilding industry and heavy industrial past. In the same year, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures showed the mortality rate in the area was 11 times higher than the national average.
Clydebank also suffered the most deaths from mesothelioma in the UK between 1976 and 1991. The impact of asbestos on people in the area was huge, and in order to honour victims of asbestos, a memorial was erected by the Clydebank Asbestos Group (CAG) in 2015.
Safeguarding worker health
Chairman of CAG, Bob Dickie, commented on the fact that asbestos awareness now allows us to better protect our workers:
“We’re more fortunate now because we safeguard against it and people know about it. When we were set up, people didn’t know much about it.”
This protection is provided not only in the physical sense, such as having access to breathing apparatus and protective clothing, but also in the way that workers are trained to understand how asbestos becomes airborne, and how to manage the ensuing danger.
Asbestos awareness training now compulsory
Employers in the UK have a legal obligation to provide asbestos awareness training to any employee likely to come across the substance at work. This allows them to manage the risks of exposure, and to understand why asbestos must be left alone if it is unwittingly disturbed.
Two other specific categories of training also exist, with anyone likely to handle or move asbestos having to undergo licensed/non-licensed training.
So has anything else changed in the intervening years in the way we deal with and manage asbestos, and what has the impact been on those suffering asbestos-related illness?
Greater understanding of the effects of asbestos on our health
The medical profession and those working in asbestos-related industries have greater knowledge about the long-term effects on health of breathing in fibres and dust, and the long latency period associated with asbestos disease – a time span as long as 60 years in some cases.
Medical research into mesothelioma is ongoing, with progress being made on treatments intended to prolong life-expectancy, rather than simply managing the symptoms at an advanced stage.
A new vaccine used in clinical trials is producing positive results, with 94% of those involved in the trial responding well.
Support from campaign groups
Campaigners such as Clydebank Asbestos Group offer invaluable support and information to asbestos victims and their families. They highlight the ongoing dangers of asbestos, and the fact that these issues are likely to affect us for some time.
CAG secretary, Hope Robinson, whose husband died from mesothelioma at the age of 59, has said:
“We won’t be able to say ‘it’s over’ in my lifetime or my daughter’s lifetime but perhaps it might finally happen in my grandchildren’s lifetime. The frightening thing is that people are being diagnosed younger than before, and the idea that it is all gone and in the past is wrong.”