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Insight

'No excuses': 20 years after UK asbestos ban, employees still at risk

In a speech to an asbestos awareness conference in Washington in April, the chief executive of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said that it was unacceptable that companies were still putting employees, their families and the public at risk of exposure to asbestos, 20 years after it was banned in the UK.

According to Mesothelioma UK, IOSH's Bev Messinger said that, despite the ban, asbestos still exists in at least half a million buildings built before 1999, potentially exposing people to the lethal dust linked to 5,000 deaths every year from cancer.

A recent IOSH report revealed that more than 130 companies or individuals in the UK have been ordered to cease work during the past year because of non-compliance with asbestos regulations.

Ms Messinger said that it was time for organisations to 'wake up and realise how dangerous asbestos is' and that there are 'no excuses' for not doing so.

'Courts fine some of the worst offenders, which causes significant commercial and reputational damage, but the human costs far outweigh the financial cost', she said.

'Thousands die in Britain every year from cancers like mesothelioma, while many more are diagnosed with it. All this is preventable through good occupational safety and health'.

Anyone who deals with the terrible consequences of exposure to asbestos at work, as we do, cannot fail to be alarmed by these findings.

Even 50 years ago, it was a spurious defence by employers facing compensation claims that they were unaware of the dangers of exposing workers to asbestos. For companies to still be putting people at such risk is indeed unacceptable on every level.

Despite advances in treatment, and particularly immunotherapy, mesothelioma still destroys the lives of those affected and their families, people who on the whole were simply going about their daily lives, working hard, unaware of the risks  of working in an environment contaminated by asbestos.

We now understand that risk and must stamp out once and for all the devastation it wreaks. No more excuses.

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