In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the dangers of asbestos were unknown or unacknowledged by employers in the UK. The number of deaths from historic exposure to the substance illustrates the dangers faced by workers at the time, albeit unknowingly.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that the number of deaths from Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer attributed to asbestos exposure, rose to 2,535 in 2012, and:
“Men who worked in the building industry when asbestos was used extensively are now among those most at risk of mesothelioma.”
The danger from exposure to asbestos in other industries has also been highlighted by the recent deaths of three men in York, one of whom worked at the former York Carriageworks between 1966 and 1986.
The other victims were a retired plumber and a retired electrician, who would also have come into contact with asbestos before its dangers were fully recognised.
Asbestos Awareness courses
If Asbestos Awareness courses had been available at the time, or at least a little more knowledge of the risks posed by exposure to asbestos, many deaths from Asbestosis and Mesothelioma could have been avoided.
One of the men who died, Mr Raymond Waterworth, was an asbestos-sprayer, and wrote about the lack of health and safety awareness in his job:
“We were provided with masks, which fitted badly ….. There was asbestos all around in the atmosphere. There were around eight others doing this job and all of them have now died.”
It is now a legal requirement for employers in the UK to provide Asbestos Awareness courses to employees who might come into contact with the substance during their normal working day.
This could include trades and professions such as architects, surveyors, plumbers, electricians and construction workers.