Hope for sufferers

ASBESTOS – for too many families the word depicts nothing short of a nightmare.Around 2,000 people in Suffolk have been victims of the silent killer – a deadly dust that is a legacy of so many people's working lives.

ASBESTOS – for too many families the word depicts nothing short of a nightmare.

Around 2,000 people in Suffolk have been victims of the silent killer – a deadly dust that is a legacy of so many people's working lives.

But thousands of lives could now be saved by new regulations laid down by the House of Commons.

Anyone with maintenance and repair responsibilities of workplaces now has a duty to assess whether there is asbestos present and if so whether it presents a risk.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations states that the risk must then be dealt with by warning anyone liable to disturb the asbestos or by removing it if it is in a poor condition.

The aim of the regulations is to make sure builders and maintenance workers are not unknowingly exposed to asbestos fibres during the course of their day to day work.

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With 500,000 premises believed to still contain asbestos a wide range of workers including electricians, plumbers, carpenters and joiners are potentially at risk.

Andrew Davidson is from the Asbestos and Respiratory Industrial Diseases Association, a self-help group which supports sufferers and their families.

He said of the new regulations: "I think this is brilliant but long overdue.

"A lot of people are now getting secondary exposure asbestos, not knowing that it is in the building that they are working in."

Up until the 1970's Asbestos was commonly used in hundreds of products ranging from cement to car brake pads and even talcum powder.

Although it has now been banned, people working on buildings built before the 1980's are now likely to get secondary exposure to the substance.

Frighteningly, one of the lung diseases caused, Mesothelioma, can be caught by just breathing in the dust a few times and it has a latency period of up to 50 years.

Mr Davidson said that numbers of people dying from the disease have not yet peaked and are unlikely to for the next 20 years.

Currently around 3,000 people a year are dying of Asbestos related diseases, this is likely to rise to 10,000 people in the next 20 years.

In 1995 research showed that at least a quarter of those people dying from asbestos have worked in construction and building operations.

Nick Brown, Minister for Health and Safety said: "The Government is committed to protecting people from the deadly effects of asbestos.

"Asbestos is the most serious occupational health problem, in terms of fatal disease that the country faces and results in much human suffering and misery.

"These regulations will do much to prevent exposure today and prolonged illness and death in the future."

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