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Asbestos deaths at epidemic levels

The threat of asbestos is being forgotten by HVAC workers even though cases of cancer linked to the banned material are continuing to rise.


The British Lung Foundation says cases of lung cancer and mesothelioma are at “epidemic” levels with more than 4,000 people dying every year.


Worryingly, the number of tradesmen suffering from cancers linked to asbestos is increasing and those involved in repair and maintenance - including plumbing and electricals – are particularly at risk.


Bob Towse, HVCA head of technical and safety, said HVCA and Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) had had a major input into a new advertising and information campaign being launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).


He added: “Unfortunately young workers see asbestos as a problem from years ago. We are pleased the HSE are doing this and helping people to recognise that asbestos is still a threat.”


The issue is especially important in the HVAC industry as material such as lagging and boiler insulation often used asbestos from the 1950s to the 1980s, when it was a common building material.


It is safe if in a good condition, but if damaged or drilled through the asbestos fibres become airbourne and may be inhaled. Research shows asbestos could be an issue in any building either built or refurbished before 2000.


Every year 1,000 tradesmen die from an asbestos related disease – 14 times the number of fatalities on construction sites. That is an average of 20 tradesmen a week.


Steve Coldrick, head of the Disease Reduction Programme at the HSE, said its research had shown that many tradesmen believed asbestos was no longer a problem while young workers, in particular, underestimated the threat.


He added: “Youngsters are heavily influenced by senior workmates and they are often the wrong role models. As a result you have all the ingredients for the continuation of a disastrous situation.”