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One in four construction workers may have been exposed to asbestos

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A recent survey from the Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH) has revealed that one in four construction workers believe they could have been exposed to asbestos and therefore susceptible to developing the fatal illness, mesothelioma.  Catriona Ralls, Industrial Disease specialist, reviews here the results of the survey and why it is so important that workers in this sector take the proper precautions.

The IOSH survey included 500 construction workers, which found that a third of them had never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, and only one in five understood what they should do if they discover asbestos on site.  “In addition to these figures, 68% of those surveyed did not know that it can cause lung disease and cancer,” explains Catriona.  “This is all very alarming when you consider the life threatening consequences of working with asbestos.  Even though asbestos is only dangerous when it’s disturbed and the particles are inhaled, the very nature of construction will mean that materials are being moved or demolished.”

All workers, not only those in construction, should be aware of what to do should they discover asbestos.  “Building owners have a responsibility towards those on their site for their health and safety, and legally they have certain obligations in monitoring any presence of asbestos, allowing those on site with access to their reports and providing them with the appropriate equipment and protective clothing,” continues Catriona.  “If you are starting work on a new site, you need to ascertain whether asbestos is present, what condition it is in and how likely it is that you will be in contact.  If you do discover it, then there are specialist asbestos removal companies who are trained to remove and dispose of it safely.  I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not attempt to remove it yourself.”

What is mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos is responsible for 5,000 deaths in Britain per year according to the IOSH.  “Mesothelioma is a cancerous disease on the lungs which is caused by inhaling the particles which make up asbestos,” explains Catriona.  “Unfortunately mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with no cure; however treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can extend life expectancy.  Currently the life expectancy following diagnosis is between 12 to 18 months, but this can depend on the stage at which you are diagnosed.”

It can be difficult to diagnose mesothelioma as the symptoms can mimic those of other ailments such as common colds or the flu.  If you have worked with asbestos and experience symptoms such as pain in the lower back or side of the chest, coughing and shortness of breath, a fever or excessive sweating, fatigue and weight loss, swelling and complications in the throat, then it’s important you see your GP as soon as possible.

“Even though asbestos was banned in 1999, there are still a million buildings in the UK that contain it, and construction workers are amongst the most at risk of exposure to the deadly material; in fact, a Health and Safety Executive survey in 2012 found that construction workers accounted for 66% of all asbestos related cancer deaths,” concludes Catriona.  “If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you are concerned about the future for your loved ones or the cost of medical treatment or palliative care, we may be able to help you claim compensation from an employer.” 

For more information about mesothelioma, or you are concerned you have been in contact with the material, you can visit their section of the website here.  Alternatively, contact Catriona or a member of the team on 0800 91 92 30 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.