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April 27, 2023

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Asbestos still a ‘very real problem’ in the UK workplace

A quarter of UK tradespeople are exposed to potentially lethal asbestos every week, a survey has found.

35% of trade workers from across the nation come across asbestos every month and 8% do so every day.

The survey, by ElectricalDirect, also found 72% of tradespeople encounter asbestos during their working lives and 60% find it every year.

asbestos, serpentine fibersIt comes as 20 UK tradespeople die each week as a result of asbestos exposure and almost half of those questioned in this survey – 44% – have had symptoms of an asbestos-related disease or know a colleague who has.

Tragically, one in 20 knew someone who has died of such a condition. 

The Health and Safety Executive have recently launched a campaign to spread the awareness of Asbestos aimed at the construction industry.

Dominick Sandford, Managing Director at ElectricalDirect, said: “Despite being banned in the UK in 1999, asbestos is still a real issue in the industry and it’s awful that so many tradespeople die from related diseases every year.

“Some people might not experience symptoms for decades after their exposure to the material, so it’s important that individuals remain vigilant, and see a doctor immediately if they spot any signs.”

The profession most likely to be exposed to asbestos was a carpenter, followed by a bricklayer then builder.

Symptoms can include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, pain in the chest or shoulder, tiredness or swollen or ‘clubbed’ fingertips.

‘Unaware’ of symptoms

However, ElectricalDirect’s research found the majority of UK tradespeople are unaware of these symptoms. Almost two-thirds failed to select a persistent cough and over half didn’t pick out shortness of breath.

Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi, said: “Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by breathing in large amounts of asbestos dust for a long time.

“The asbestos gets lodged in the lungs causing scarring around the air sacs (alveoli), which means oxygen can’t reach the bloodstream easily.

“The scarring leads to the lungs hardening, making it more difficult to breathe because the lungs cannot hold as much air as they used to.

“The condition is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos, a material used in the past for cement, insulation, car parts, and some roof and floor tiles.
“The fibres in asbestos break down into little pieces when they’re damaged, released into the air and then breathed in. These fibres get stuck in the lungs, and over a long time, can cause permanent lung damage.”

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