Is Asbestos Exposure Still A Problem In The UK?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

These days pretty much everyone knows that asbestos is incredibly harmful.

Even though learning of the dangers of asbestos is relatively new – ‘asbestos shovelling competitions’ used to take place in 1960’s – there has been a general acceptance for years that coming into contact with asbestos is a bad thing for your long-term health.

The ban on using asbestos in the United Kingdom came into effect in 1999 however that doesn’t mean that it has gone away. Many buildings still have asbestos present in their construction. So, is asbestos exposure still a problem in the UK today?

How Was Asbestos Used?

Before we look at the damage that asbestos can cause, let’s first explore how the material was actually used.

In the UK asbestos served as a building insulator and it was even used for many household items and fittings. It’s strong resistance to heat, electricity and fire meant that for decades it was very popular and most buildings built in the UK prior to its ban probably have some form of asbestos present.

To demonstrate how commonly it was used in the construction of both industrial and residential buildings, the HSE have a handy diagram to show locations where asbestos may still be present.

What Effect Does Asbestos Exposure Have? 

Asbestos causes serious and life-threatening conditions to those who have come into contact with it.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is a direct result of exposure to asbestos. Around 2500 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK and only 5% of men and 10% of women survive more than 5 years after diagnosis.

Asbestos causes mesothelioma as the tiny fibres that make up the material get into the lungs and cause gene mutations. The health issues don’t appear until years or even decades after exposure so the number of new people being diagnosed each year is expected to rise due to the widespread use of asbestos in the UK in the 20th century.

Is Asbestos Still A Problem Today?

Many buildings in the UK still contain asbestos. In fact, a government report found that a number of schools are at serious risk with some 75% of school buildings containing the material and, from a health and safety perspective, it still causes problems for employee’s, children and the general public.

There are a number of things that you should do if you are an employer or an employee who is going to work in a building that contains asbestos. You can find this information on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

Asbestos and the associated long-term health risks are still a very real problem in the UK and the number of people being diagnosed every year is expected to rise in the future. Even though the material hasn’t been used for nearly two decades it is still present in many buildings and it presents a significant health and safety issues for everyone in Britain.

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