Asbestos exposure


Businesses across the world have access to new free resources on how to manage exposure to asbestos. Michelle Muxworthy, Vice-President of IOSH, discusses the latest phase of the No Time to Lose campaign.

As a business, how well do you safeguard the health of your employees?

Just as organisations have a duty to ensure employees are not hurt in workplace accidents, it is equally crucial that they prevent them from being exposed to harmful agents and carcinogens.

Asbestos is one such carcinogen. It is the biggest occupational cancer killer, accounting for at least 107,000 deaths around the world every year. In Britain alone, around 5,000 people die from asbestos exposure at work – the highest rate per head of population in the world.

This is simply unacceptable: just like all other work-related deaths, these are entirely preventable.

No Time to Lose

That is why IOSH, the world’s leading chartered body for safety and health professionals, is focusing on asbestos in the fourth phase of its No Time to Lose occupational cancer campaign.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of work cancer contracted by exposure to carcinogens and to help businesses take action by providing free practical materials. Previous phases focused on diesel engine exhaust emissions, solar radiation and silica dust.

Despite being banned in 62 countries, tens of thousands of people are still being put at risk of exposure to asbestos on a daily basis.

Asbestos has been banned in Britain since 1999. But its use was commonplace in the decades before this and about half a million buildings – built before the millennium – still contain asbestos. A large proportion of these buildings are workplaces, many of them I’m sure in manufacturing, engineering and similar sectors.

In fact, current UK data indicates that the risk of fatal asbestos-related cancer is greatest among people who work in engineering, as well as construction.

Asbestos can be found in spray coatings, laggings, insulating boards, ropes, yarns and cloth, millboard and papers, fibre cement, floor tiles, gaskets, bitumen felts, mastic, sealants, putties, textured coatings and paints, and reinforced plastics.

While they are invisible to the naked eye, the fibres, if breathed in, can become stuck in the lungs. The effects of this will not be seen immediately, but over the following decades they can start to appear, with illnesses including fatal cancers like mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.

Preventing exposure

With asbestos being all around us, it is crucial that businesses put measures in place to prevent employees being exposed and face having their lives cut short.

That is what our campaign is aiming to do. IOSH is encouraging organisations to demonstrate their commitment by supporting No Time to Lose and signing up to the pledge to protect employees.

Over 200 organisations worldwide are already supporting the campaign and more than 100 leading businesses worldwide have signed up to the pledge. Through these forward-thinking companies, work-related carcinogens have been highlighted to at least half a million employees globally.


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