asbestos pipe insulation

British Campaign Battles Familiar Foe

Britain's Health and Safety Executive launched an "Asbestos: The Hidden Killer" campaign last week with former soccer star and TV personality Ian Wright as its spokesman. Wright, who was a construction laborer before signing his first professional contract, said he was surprised to learn an average of 20 members of the UK building trades die per week of asbestos-related diseases, and HSE expects the number to rise.

The campaign continues through November. Its goal is to reduce the rising death rate by educating construction workers about the dangers of asbestos dust when pipe insulation, floor tiles, and sprayed fireproofing materials containing it are drilled or cut during renovations. Asbestos may be present in any building built or renovated before the year 2000, and it is estimated to be present inside about 500,000 non-domestic UK buildings, according to HSE.

"I used to be a plasterer before becoming a professional footballer and was really surprised to learn that the number of deaths is actually on the increase year on year," Wright said. "If that was footballers dying, the whole of the premiership (England's top soccer league) would be wiped out in just three months."

"We need to educate tradesmen about how asbestos and its dangers are relevant to them. We want them to change the way they work so that they don't put their lives at risk," said Steve Coldrick, director of HSE's Disease Reduction Program. "Exposure to asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths, with around 4,000 people a year dying from asbestos-related disease. The overall number of deaths is rising because a large number of workers who have already been exposed to asbestos dust around 40 years ago will go on to develop mesothelioma, a terminal cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases."

"The HSE campaign is vital because research shows that only one in ten tradesmen know that exposure to asbestos can prove fatal," said Jill Morrell, public affairs chief at the British Lung Foundation. "The asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma is a cruel disease which as yet has no cure. We must do all we can to prevent more people dying from this preventable disease."

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