IOSH Survey Finds More Education Needed on Asbestos Exposure Risks

IOSH Survey Finds More Education Needed on Asbestos Exposure Risks

"We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them," IOSH President Craig Foyle said. "IOSH has an array of resources designed to assist employers put measures in place which protect their workforce."

Almost one in four UK construction workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibers, according to a survey commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. IOSH commissioned the survey as part of its No Time to Lose campaign against asbestos exposure in the world's workplaces.

Asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye, but if they are breathed in, they can stick into the lining of the lungs and cause serious illnesses over time, including fatal cancers such as mesothelioma. At least 5,000 people die each year in Britain alone from an asbestos-related cancer caused by exposure at work, according to the Health and Safety Executive, and asbestos claims more than 107,000 lives a year worldwide.

An estimated 125 million people are exposed to asbestos at work each year. IOSH commissioned Opinium to survey 500 construction workers to understand the scale of the asbestos exposure issue and to find out how much workers know about the risks.

The majority of survey respondents (59 percent) have been informed of the risks of asbestos exposure; however, a third (32 percent) have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, and 15 percent of those did not know about the register. Almost a fifth of responders (18 percent) said that if they discovered asbestos, they would not be sure what to do.

Key findings of the survey include:

• 59 percent have been informed of the asbestos risks and have had this reinforced regularly with training; 15 percent have never been informed

• 23 percent say they have been exposed to asbestos; with only 27 percent saying they haven't been exposed

• 32 percent have never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site, with 15 percent of these not knowing about the register

• 18 percent said that if they found asbestos they would either be unsure or have no idea what to do

Scientists and health and safety experts have expressed concern about these findings and are calling on employers across all sectors to ensure they avoid exposing employees to asbestos. "We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them," IOSH President Craig Foyle said. "IOSH has an array of resources designed to assist employers put measures in place which protect their workforce."

Asbestos is banned in 62 countries. The UK banned it in 1999, but many of the country’s buildings — potentially half a million —constructed earlier contain it, contributing to Britons having the world’s highest chance of dying from mesothelioma. Asbestos can also be found in products including roofing, spray coatings, insulating boards, ropes, yarns, and cloth.

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