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News

Protecting workers from asbestos: a legal duty

HSE InfoLine : 20 May, 2004  (Company News)
Protection for building and maintenance workers from the fatal diseases caused by asbestos will be enhanced tomorrow when the new duty to manage comes into force. The duty will require anyone responsible for the maintenance of commercial, industrial or public properties or for the common areas of domestic properties, to check for asbestos and properly manage the risk.
Protection for building and maintenance workers from the fatal diseases caused by asbestos will be enhanced tomorrow when the new duty to manage comes into force. The duty will require anyone responsible for the maintenance of commercial, industrial or public properties or for the common areas of domestic properties, to check for asbestos and properly manage the risk.

Many structures built or renovated between 1950 and 1980 still contain asbestos, about half a million buildings across Britain. Asbestos becomes dangerous when disturbed; if maintenance workers are not warned they may dislodge the deadly fibres and unwittingly put their lives in jeopardy. So the risks are great - but effective compliance with the duty to manage will help save about 5,000 lives.

Jane Kennedy, Minister of State for Work, said:
'With the government's whole-hearted support, the Health and Safety Executive is engaged in a campaign to get the message on asbestos in buildings across to the huge audience who need to know about it, and to encourage them to take effective action. It must surely make good business sense to find out whether your premises contain asbestos, and then make certain that building and maintenance workers are warned in advance.'

Asbestos is the biggest occupational health risk ever faced by workers in Britain. About 3,500 people are dying every year as a result of exposure to asbestos many years ago, before it was banned. This figure is expected to reach at least 4,000 deaths annually, peaking sometime between the years 2011 and 2015. Most of these deaths are from mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) or lung cancer.

Bill Callaghan, Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, said:
'Asbestos is not yesterday's problem. We must now meet the challenge of managing the risks from asbestos, if we are to prevent another generation of workers suffering an early death at its hand.'

'Sadly, we can't turn the clock back for the people who breathed in asbestos fibres in the shipyards, docks and factories of 30 years ago. But what we can and must do is to make every effort to prevent any more exposure to this terrible material.'
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