MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee have launched an inquiry into how asbestos is managed in the workplace. We have submitted written evidence to the inquiry. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum will be giving live evidence at one of the committee’s hearings.
Who is at risk?
Traditionally the people deemed to be at highest risk were tradespeople working directly with asbestos. However, although asbestos has been banned for more than 20 years, we are still encountering service users who were recently exposed to it in their workplace. A typical example is the man who for 17 years until 2020 was required to store his equipment and overalls in a boiler house lagged with asbestos. Many people still work in factories with asbestos rooves. One young mother in her 30s died recently after exposure to damaged asbestos rooves in two factories where she was a machinist. She has left behind an 18 month-old toddler. Her family are distraught.
There is also a growing number of school, college and hospital workers who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. Primary school teachers are five times more likely to die from this disease than other people. Between 2001 and 2016 at least 305 teachers died from mesothelioma before they reached age 75, but the disease is often only diagnosed when people are in their late 70s, 80s or even 90s. 
The regulations are not working
These upsetting examples suggest that the current regulations are not protecting people. Often asbestos in the workplace isn’t managed properly. Owners and managers may not even know that it is there. In one school a staff member asked to see the asbestos register. Although it was supposed to exist, no one knew where the register was.
People are not being told about the risks they face
There is very low awareness of the official guidance about asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive has lots of useful information on its website but most people do not know about it. People only realise the risks they have been exposed to when they become unwell, by which time it is too late.
Typically our service users tell us that they can’t imagine where they were exposed to asbestos. A brief look at their work history then reveals when they were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, often on many occasions.
What is the solution?
Some people think that better record keeping and frequent air monitoring would help to deal with the risks which asbestos poses. However, the asbestos will eventually have to be safely removed, either when it deteriorates and becomes more dangerous or when the building is demolished. We would like to see a #zeroasbestos policy where organisations are given grants to remove it while other refurbishment work, like the introduction of carbon free boilers, is being done