Asbestos warning, as death toll tops 35,000 01 November 2009

A new generation of workers are at risk unless construction workers on plant get to grips with asbestos – Britain's biggest workplace killer.

That's the warning from HSE, which last month ran a £1.2 million, month-long campaign, revealing that a quarter of the 4,000 people dying from asbestos-related diseases each year in Britain are tradesmen such as joiners, electricians and plumbers.

HSE figures show that more than 35,000 people died from the mesothelioma (the asbestos-related cancer) between 1977 and 2007, with death rates rising at 5% year-on-year.

Steve Coldrick, HSE's asbestos programme director, points to research showing that tradesmen believe asbestos to be a historical problem – meaning they are not at risk.

"We can educate today's workforce about the risks and what action they need to take to protect themselves from this deadly dust. If tradesmen are not sure whether there is asbestos present, they should stop and check," says Coldrick.

The campaign was backed by the TUC, trade unions, trade associations, training organisations, charities and victim support groups. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, says: "Asbestos cannot be written off as a 20th century problem. We owe it to the memory of those whose lives have been cut short to get the message through to today's workers."

Brian Tinham

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