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Summary

  • Based on Death certificates where asbestosis is described as being the underlying cause there were 96 deaths due to the disease in 2007.
  • There were 380 deaths in total in 2007 where the death certificate mentioned the term "asbestosis", and 66 of these are also included on the mesothelioma register because the death certificate also mentioned the term "mesothelioma".
  • Disablement benefit cases for asbestosis have risen erratically since the early 1980s, with the trend increasing strongly from the late 1990s through to the middle of the new millennium. The number of cases for 2008 is 795.

Introduction

Asbestosis is defined as lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. Diagnosis is made on the basis of clinical features, X-ray appearances and a history of heavy asbestos exposure. It is generally recognised that heavy asbestos exposures are required in order to produce clinically significant asbestosis within the lifetime of an individual. Current trends therefore still largely reflect the results of heavy exposures in the past.

Overall scale of disease including trends

The Health and Safety Executive maintains a register of all deaths where death certificates mention asbestosis. These deaths include those where the underlying cause is specifically identified as asbestosis, but also those with other underlying causes but where asbestosis was nevertheless mentioned in the textual description of the cause of death. (The underlying cause of death is defined as the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death.) Thus the total number of deaths on the asbestosis register gives an indication of the number of individuals who were suffering from asbestosis when they died. In 2007 there were 380 deaths where the death certificate mentioned asbestosis and of these 96 had asbestos recorded as the underlying cause of death.

Interpretation of these figures is complicated by two issues:

Cases of asbestosis may sometimes not be recorded as such because they may be mistaken for other types of lung fibrosis or may go undiagnosed.

The word "asbestosis" is often mentioned on death certificates along with other asbestos-related diseases - i.e. mesothelioma and/or lung cancer. On some death certificates the wording of the cause of death description suggests that the term has been used incorrectly to indicate the role of asbestos in causing mesothelioma and/or lung cancer, rather than the presence of asbestos-induced lung fibrosis per se. This is particularly the case for mesothelioma, where the phrase "industrial disease of asbestosis" is often used when mesothelioma is given as a cause of death

There are four main diseases associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres. These are asbestosis (a scarring of the lung tissue caused by asbestos), two kinds of cancer (mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer), and diffuse pleural thickening (a non-malignant disease affecting the lung lining). The latest available statistics for each of these diseases are reported and discussed in the following sections:

  • Asbestosis
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer
  • Diffuse pleural thickening

Current evidence suggests that asbestos can also cause laryngeal cancer and may be implicated in causing pharyngeal, stomach and colorectal cancers.

Asbestos fibres are present in the environment in Great Britain so people are exposed to very low levels of fibres. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels could increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

Remember, these diseases will not affect you immediately but later on in life, so there is a need for you to protect yourself now to prevent you contracting an asbestos-related disease in the future. It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

Make sure you double-bag it and label as asbestos waste. You can then get in contact with the Local Authority or Environment Agency to find out if they will assist you in disposing of it, they may charge for this service. Alternatively, you can contact the Environment Agency.

If you work in any of the following occupations, and are working on a building built or refurbished before 2000, you may come in to contact with asbestos:

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Construction workers
  • Fire and burglar alarm installers
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Computer installers
  • General maintenance staff eg caretakers
  • Telecommunications engineers
  • Building surveyors
  • Cable layers
  • Electricians

This list does not include all occupations where you may come in to contact with asbestos. Some of the places where you may find it can be found in the HSE’s interactive diagram available on www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.

It’s not easy to tell asbestos from how it looks, and it needs to be properly identified in a specialist laboratory. But here are a few examples:

  • Asbestos used as packing between floors and in partition walls
  • Sprayed (‘'impet') asbestos on structural beams and girders
  • Lagging on pipework, boilers, calorifiers, heat exchangers etc
  • Asbestos insulating board - ceiling tiles, partition walls, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shaft lining, fire surrounds, soffits etc.
  • Asbestos cement products such as roof and wall cladding, bath panels, boiler and incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, water tanks etc.
  • Other products such as floor tiles, mastics, sealants, rope seals and gaskets (in pipework etc.), millboard, paper products, cloth (fire blankets, etc.) and bituminous products (roofing felt, etc)

Some of the examples listed above can only be carried out by a contractor who has been granted a licence from HSE.

We are able to deliver on-site training courses in all these regions:

Avon, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Borders, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Central Scotland, Cheshire,  Cleveland, Clwyd, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Dumfries/Galloway, Dyfed, East Sussex, Essex, Fife, Gloucestershire, Grampian, Greater Manchester, Gwent, Gwynedd County, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Highlands, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London, Lothian, Merseyside, Mid Glamorgan, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Powys, Shropshire, Somerset, South Glamorgan, Staffordshire, Strathclyde, Suffolk, Surrey, Tayside, Tyne and Wear, Warwickshire, West Glamorgan, West Midlands, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Worcestershire & Yorkshire

Bangor, Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Canterbury, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chester, Chichester, Coventry, Derby, Durham, Edinburgh, Ely, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, Kingston upon Hull, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newport, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Salford, Salisbury, Sheffield, Southampton, St Albans, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Swansea, Truro, Wakefield, Wells, Winchester, Wolverhampton, Worcester, York