Ex-RAF man exposed to asbestos

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A man has died from Epithelial Mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos whilst working in the RAF during the 1960s and 1970s. This specific type of Mesothelioma accounts for 50% to 70% of all diagnosed cases, and is supposed to be one of the easier forms to treat.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that attacks the lung linings, and is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. The dangers of this lethal substance were not commonly made known to employees in past decades, leaving many workers in the construction and shipbuilding industries in particular, at risk of the disease.

Frank Tate left a written account of what had happened that put him at serious risk. This formed part of the evidence at his inquest, the coroner ruling that his death was caused by industrial disease.

Mr Tate wrote in his letter:

“We were exposed to fibres and asbestos dust. All storage bins had dust on them and in them and we had to empty the bins. We were not told of the dangers of asbestos.”

Lack of asbestos awareness is a huge factor in today’s deaths

Although widely used during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the threat from asbestos was rarely made known to workers likely to come into contact with it, many of whom have subsequently suffered terminal illness.

According to Cancer Research UK, deaths from Mesothelioma reached 2,429 in 2012. They also estimate that 94% were preventable, showing just how awareness can help reduce the numbers of fatalities.

Historically, asbestos dust and fibres would settle inside the lungs, only to cause catastrophic health problems later in life. Three main types of asbestos were used commercially – blue, brown and white – with many materials containing all three forms.

Brown asbestos has needle-like fibres which set up infection in the lungs when inhaled. Blue asbestos was known as the most dangerous type, however, and was found in spray-coatings and cement-related products.

In Mr Tate’s case, he recalled asbestos dust lying on storage bins when RAF planes were being spray-coated. He and his colleagues were required to empty the bins, so exposing all of them to huge risk.

How asbestos awareness saves lives today

Although asbestos is thought to be safe if left undisturbed, great care needs to be taken as the lethal dust and fibres are easily released into the air – a particular problem if you don’t know where asbestos might be.

This is why the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires employers to provide training on what asbestos looks like, and which materials might contain it. An HSE asbestos certificate, downloadable on completion of the training, confirms that the employer’s obligation has been met.

This is not the end of their responsibility regarding asbestos, however. HSE also recommends that ongoing training is provided, and although not a formal requirement, refresher courses let tradespeople know about any updated legislation or new health and safety best practices with regard to asbestos.