Global Asbestos Awareness Week 2021 – Uniting in The Fight Against Asbestos and Related Diseases:
This week is Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW) which is dedicated to increasing awareness of asbestos and preventing exposure by bringing together experts and victims from around the world to share, learn, and take action.
The week is organised by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the largest independent non-profit making organisation in the USA, dedicated to preventing asbestos exposure, eliminating asbestos-related diseases, and protecting asbestos victims’ civil rights through education, advocacy, and community initiatives.
Worldwide, asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational cancer, claiming more than 230,000 lives a year worldwide, and around 125 million people are still exposed to it at work. 70% of the world still legally using asbestos, in particular within construction, ship building and the automotive industry.
Today in the UK, asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers, and asbestos can be found in buildings built before the year 2000.
Since asbestos accumulates in the body over time, the effects of exposure are often only seen later in life. There are around two-thirds of cancer deaths in the industry, which are caused by asbestos.
Asbestos can cause two types of cancer; Mesothelioma and Asbestos-related lung cancer. Alongside this, asbestos is also linked to serious lung diseases such as; Asbestosis and Diffuse Pleural Thickening. Despite bans on the use of this harmful material in the UK, exposure to asbestos is still a high risk.
For the past 16 years, Global Asbestos Awareness Week has been a time for Mesothelioma advocates, doctors, scientists, victims, and their friends and families to come together to spread awareness about the dangers of asbestos and asbestos-related diseases. This week provides a platform for people to share new medical knowledge, plan future legislative efforts, and provide community and support for those impacted by this deadly material.
It is 2021 – and asbestos is still not banned in the USA – despite having been banned in the UK for over 20 years. The UK banned chrysotile (White Asbestos) on 24 August, 1999. Chrysotile had been the only type of asbestos permitted in the UK since amosite (Brown Asbestos) and crocidolite (Blue Asbestos) were banned in 1985. Europe banned the use of asbestos in 2005 but half of the rest of the world still use asbestos.
While many other countries around the globe have been successful in their efforts to ban asbestos, the United States is far behind. In fact, by some measures, the country is moving backward. In 2018, American imports of raw asbestos doubled to more than 750 metric tons.
Countless American schools, factories, machines, and homes still contain asbestos in their walls, paint, and insulation. Although past efforts from Mesothelioma advocates have impacted the way the USA uses asbestos, it’s clear that the fight goes on. Asbestos-related diseases cause more than 39,000 U.S. deaths each year.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibres and is one of the most notorious asbestos-related diseases. There is no known cure for Mesothelioma, and the median life expectancy after a Mesothelioma diagnosis is only one year.
Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products in the USA have known about the deadly consequences of asbestos exposure, yet lobby members of Congress each year to be allowed to continue using the material in their products. These companies have shown time and time again that when it comes to choosing human life over short-term profits, they’ll choose to put profits above people.
Banning asbestos in the United States would mean tens of thousands of Americans would be saved from needless diseases and premature death. This is why we continue campaigning and trade unions continue the fight against asbestos use and negligent manufacturers. The CWU, TUC and other UK trade unions continue to fully support their campaign as we did in our support for the campaigners and trade unions in Canada in the successful international campaign to stop the re-opening of asbestos mines and restarting of asbestos production in Canada which eventually stopped mining asbestos in 2011 and banned the importation, manufacture, sale, trade or use of products made with the toxic mineral on 30 December 2018 (30 years after the World Health Organisation declared asbestos as a ‘human carcinogen’).
Asbestos is the biggest occupational cancer killer, claiming at least 233,000 lives a year worldwide – probably many, many more. In Britain alone around 5,000 people die from work-related asbestos exposure.
The risk from asbestos is considered to be so serious that more than 60 countries, including the UK and those in the European Union, have banned its use and have specific laws to protect workers and others who may be exposed to it.
However, asbestos is still used and imported into many countries, and there are still many thousands of tonnes of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in buildings, and in industrial plant and equipment, all over the world. Workers therefore remain at risk from breathing in asbestos fibres.
The TUC and CWU are part of an all UK unions campaign to remove asbestos from all UK buildings.
Use free resources to find out more about asbestos.
IOSH ‘No Time To Lose” Occupational Cancer (Asbestos) Campaign:
Since 2014, IOSH has been campaigning for occupational cancer prevention through its ‘No Time To Lose’ (NTTL) Campaign to which both the CWU and Royal Mail signed up to the campaign pledge.
Worldwide, work-related cancers claim at least 742,000 lives a year – that’s more than one death a minute. These cancers are caused by exposure to carcinogens including asbestos, silica dust, solar radiation and diesel engine exhaust emissions.
The No Time to Lose campaign aims to:
- raise awareness of a significant health issue facing employees,
- offer businesses free practical, original materials to help them deliver effective prevention programs,
- secure commitments from organizations to improve preventative measures.
Through the campaign, IOSH launched a number of new materials to help raise awareness of asbestos and how to manage it. These include a fact guide, leaflet, pocket card for employees and posters plus presentations and ‘Duty to Manage’ flowcharts for employers.
IOSH is also encouraging more organisations to support the campaign and sign-up to its pledge. The pledge is a six-step plan which captures the key actions an organisation is already doing, or planning to do, to manage carcinogenic exposures within its workplace.
More than 400 organizations from 40 countries signed up to supporting the campaign and have agreed to raise awareness of occupational cancer, and 150 leading businesses signed up to the pledge to manage carcinogens in the workplace.
HSE ‘Hidden Killer’ (Asbestos) Campaign:
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) successful ‘Asbestos: Hidden Killer’ campaign was launched in 2008.
During the campaign, there were a number of phases and the HSE evaluated the impact. The campaign was particularly targeted towards trades people and construction workers. Overall, the HSE used a variety of media and promotional outlets to promote the campaign and it is supported by a dedicated website and resources.
The campaign objectives were to:
- Support the policy objective to reduce the overall number of workers dying from asbestos-related diseases.
- Inform and educate the target audience that the risk from asbestos is current and relevant to them and the work that they do.
- Encourage the target audience to actively seek information about asbestos and the ways they can protect themselves by undertaking a tailored call to action.
The successful HSE campaign was followed up with HSE directing attention at legal ‘Dutyholders’; Maintenance Contractors; Premises Owners and Facilities Managers, following the ‘Hidden Killer’ Campaign.
The asbestos campaign includes articles; leaflets; information and media broadcasts directed at legal ‘Dutyholders’; Maintenance Contractors; Premises Owners and Facilities Managers, to assess what is being done to ensure the legal requirements to ‘manage’ the risks associated with asbestos on premises were fulfilled.
Managing the risk means making sure that as far as reasonably practicable, no-one can come to any harm from asbestos on the premises – Approved Code of Practice L127.
A legal ‘Dutyholder’ means… “every person who has, by virtue of a contract or tenancy, an obligation of any extent, in relation to the Maintenance & Repair of non-domestic premises, or any means of access thereto or egress therefrom” – Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
The HSE states that it wants to ensure ‘Dutyholders’ are complying with the legal asbestos requirements, in accordance with all the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the HSE intention is to proactively enforce the legal requirement for legal Dutyholders to ‘manage’ asbestos correctly, as well as ensuring Premises Owners and Facilities Managers are fully implementing the correct level of asbestos inspections before any refurbishment or demolition project, as well as ensuring that all contractor operatives have Asbestos Awareness Training before coming onto site. The HSE states that it does not take non-compliance very sympathetically. In addition, breach of the regulations can lead to criminal prosecution; financial penalties and even imprisonment. If a fatality occurs due to the malpractice of ‘Dutyholder’ responsibilities, employers can also be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter & Homicide Regulations 2008. The HSE prosecutes organisations and provides a ‘name and shame’ bulletin once conviction has been confirmed, causing huge marketing restrictions in the future and reducing professional reputation.
Action Mesothelioma Day 2021:
Action Mesothelioma Day is Friday 2 July 2021. Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer caused by breathing in asbestos dust. Mesothelioma takes a long time to develop. It’s normal for people to get the first symptoms 30 to 40 years after they were first exposed to asbestos. The annual Action Mesothelioma Day was set up to raise awareness of and pay tribute to people suffering with the asbestos-related cancer Mesothelioma. This year, it is being held on Friday 2 Julyacross the country. The UK has the world’s highest rate of Mesothelioma, with more than 2,700 people diagnosed with the disease each year – and this number is only increasing. The rising number of people being diagnosed with Mesothelioma has been directly linked to the UK’s continued import and use of deadly asbestos well into the 1990s. Each year, hundreds of people gather in cities across the UK to raise awareness of Mesothelioma, to call for better treatment and care for people living with Mesothelioma, for prevention of exposure to asbestos and to ban the import and export of asbestos around the world. Further information on Action Mesothelioma Day will be published in due course.
All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Safety & Health – Asbestos Report & Recommendations:
The CWU, TUC and other unions attend and participate in open meetings of the House of Commons APPG on Safety and Health which has been considering the issue of asbestos. Following on from its excellent October 2015 report, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health (APPG) continued to call for the accelerated removal of all asbestos from Britain’s buildings. The APPG believes that the time has come to put in place regulations requiring the safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place in Britain. Along with the TUC, CWU and other unions and asbestos campaign groups, the APPG is calling for legislation with a timetable for the eradication of asbestos in every workplace in Britain. It also wants a national programme of asbestos surveys and all home-buyers’ surveys to include asbestos reports.
Among its report recommendations were:
- All commercial, public, and rented domestic premises should have to conduct and register with the Health & Safety Executive, a survey done by a registered consultant that indicates whether asbestos-containing material is present, and, if so, where it is and in what condition. This should be completed no later than 2022.
- Where asbestos is identified in any premises, all refurbishment, repair or remedial work done in the vicinity of the asbestos-containing material should include the removal of the asbestos. Where no such work takes place or is planned within the foreseeable future, the duty holder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos which ensures that removal is completed as soon as is reasonably practicable but certainly no later than 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, such as schools, this should be done by 2028.
- The HSE, local authorities and other enforcing agencies must develop a programme of workplace inspections to verify that all asbestos-containing material identified is properly marked and managed and that asbestos eradication plans are in place and include, as part of the plan, an acceptable timeframe for the eradication. Resources should be made available to the enforcing agencies to ensure that they can ensure that all workplaces and public places are complying with the regulation relating to management and removal, and that disposal is being done responsibly and safely before any house sale is completed, a survey should be done which includes a survey of the presence of asbestos. Any asbestos-containing material should be labelled. Information on the presence of asbestos should be given to any contractor working on the house.
The All Party Parliamentary Group concluded that there is far too much complacency about the asbestos which can still be found in hundreds of thousands of workplaces, buildings and schools where children face exposure to this killer dust. The Group believe that the Government needs to start now on developing a programme to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from every workplace and public place so that once and for all this dreadful legacy which has killed so many people can be ended, because it will continue to kill until asbestos is eradicated.
The CWU and TUC welcomed the APPG’s report which demonstrates that new regulations are urgently needed in order to ensure that workers, children and the public are protected.
- IOSH NTTL Campaign Asbestos Leaflet
- HSE HK Campaign Leaflet
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer