Banned but not gone: all asbestos can cause cancer is a new Unite campaign. It has been launched because no one is safe from the dangers of asbestos for which there is no safe exposure limit.
Asbestos’ widespread historical use, especially for pipe insulation, cement board and floor coverings, means it remains present in most workplaces and public buildings built or refurbished before 2000.
Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma, which can take between 25 and 50 years to develop, is incurable and up to 2,500 people die from this every year, with the UK epidemic not expected to peak until 2020.
Lengthy campaigning by trade unions has been successful in establishing a regulatory framework that can protect people.
Blue and brown asbestos was outlawed in 1985. The import, sale and use of white asbestos was then banned 14 years later. The 2012 control of asbestos regulations places a duty on factory, school and office owners to manage asbestos by making themselves aware of its presence, preventing exposure and if damaged removing it.
Problems remain because Britain’s safety watchdog, the health and safety executive (HSE), has had its inspection powers and the numbers of inspectors it employs slashed by this current government.
There are real fears of greater cuts to the HSE if the Tories win next year’s election.
Meanwhile a recent HSE survey found only one in five tradespersons, who are likely come into contact with asbestos around 100 times a year, knew that a property built up to 2000 could contain asbestos.
This being the case, Unite wants all its members to be aware of the problems of asbestos and to combine to tackle them.
It wants to prevent future illnesses and unnecessary deaths and where this proves impossible we offer a free legal service that is second to none.
Members already exposed to asbestos can complete an online register and over 12,000 have so far done just that.
“We want to ensure that the employer carries out their duties of care,” said John Allott, Unite national officer for construction, “and for this to happen Unite members and workplace reps need to familiarise themselves with asbestos.
“Then find out if it is present. If it is then there are well established policies and practices that Unite has helped many employers adopt. These make workplaces safer by preventing future exposure, which has to be our aim everywhere.
“Members can obtain leaflets and advice from the Unite website, their regional officer and national health and safety advisors. Don’t wait until it is too late, act now.”
Sadly, it is a fact that it will already be too late for at least some Unite members that have been in contact with asbestos.
Where illness does occur contact the union for free expert legal advice from specialists such as Thompsons Solicitors. Members are guaranteed 100 per cent of any compensation.
After developing the incurable cancer mesothelioma, John, who was exposed to asbestos whilst working as an electrician in the 60s and 70s, won substantial compensation.
“I am so grateful to Unite for supporting my claim and to Thompsons for helping me to obtain compensation that will support me and my family financially as we struggle to come to terms with my diagnosis.”