Friday, 15 January 2010
The Ministry of Justice is expected to reveal this week whether it will reverse a landmark judgment that prevents those diagnosed with pleural plaques – an early indicator of contamination – from taking legal action.
Although as many as 90,000 people a year may be developing the condition, the government's Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) has recommended against adding it to the approved list of "compensatable disablement" schemes.
People exposed to asbestos may go on to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. Once considered diseases associated with heavy industry that targeted men in asbestos-processing factories and shipyards, patterns of premature fatalities have started to emerge in other professions, including electricians, plumbers, garage mechanics, teachers and even hairdressers.
Estimates by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest the UK epidemic will peak in the middle of the next decade with about 5,000 deaths a year. The period between diagnosis of mesothelioma and death is usually brief.
The sale of asbestos was banned in the UK 10 years ago. In some buildings it has been removed. Elsewhere it remains, often insulating pipes in ducts where electricians work. Some hair salon blowdryers were at one stage insulated with asbestos. The new evidence has emerged from studies commissioned to assess the impact of long-term exposure.
A report by scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) this summer reclassified certain cancers and concluded that more than previously thought are related to asbestos fibres. "Sufficient evidence is now available to show that asbestos also causes cancer of the larynx (throat) and of the ovary," the group reported in the Lancet Oncology journal.
Estimating that as many as 125 million people worldwide still work in asbestos-contaminated offices and factories, the scientists noted: "Although asbestos has been banned or restricted in most of the industrialised world, its use is increasing in parts of Asia, South America and the former Soviet Union."
More than half of work-related deaths from six major cancers in the UK are due to asbestos, according to a team of London-based public health researchers. "Estimates for all six cancers [in terms of the number of occupation-related deaths] but leukaemia, are greater than those currently used in UK health and safety strategy planning," the paper in Occupational Environmental magazine concludes. Written by, among others, Dr Lesley Rushton at Imperial College, London, the report warns that its figures are "likely to be a conservative estimate of true risk". She told the Guardian: "You spend a third of your life at work. You need to take the risks very seriously. One of the problems is that many people don't realise when they are exposed to asbestos.
"We haven't reduced exposure to asbestos as much as we should have. If you look at the compensation statistics, then you can see that women diagnosed with mesothelioma rarely receive payments. They can't prove it was occupationally related." Rushton is now working on new estimates for asbestos-related death rates.
The true level of asbestos-related deaths is partially disguised by the fact that those who contract lung cancer tend to blame themselves for smoking at some stage in their life rather than making a connection to asbestos. The HSE in its occupational disease models, however, works on the basis that for every death from mesothelioma there has been another asbestos-related lung cancer fatality.
This week, the Ministry of Justice is expected to announce whether it will overturn a landmark House of Lords judgment made in 2007 that barred claimants from suing for compensation if they have been diagnosed as suffering from pleural plaques. The Scottish parliament has already passed legislation to overturn the law lords' decision.
In its comments on the condition, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council declared: "The condition is likely to be common, with one expert suggesting that as many as 36,000 to 90,000 people a year may be developing plaques."
In explaining why pleural plaques should not automatically trigger statutory payouts, the IIAC said: "They do not alter the structure of the lungs or restrict their expansion. Therefore, they would not be expected to cause an important degree of impaired lung function or disability.
• This article was amended on 20 July 2009. The original referred to the Lancet Oncology publication as a magazine. This has been corrected.
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 19 July 2009
Monday, 4 January 2010
Visitors to the Houses of Parliament, MPs, peers and officials working in the 170-year-old building are at risk of exposure to a dangerous form of asbestos fibres, according to a safety report seen by the Guardian.
A detailed investigation of the service shafts and piping ducts hidden behind the neo-Gothic committee rooms and chambers warns of "significant dangers" to "all persons" in the Palace of Westminster.
The study - produced by Goddard Consulting, London-based health and safety experts, for the Parliamentary Works Service Directorate - was delivered earlier this year. It documents fears that risks are not being adequately addressed.
One problem identified was an access door to an asbestos-contaminated shaft beside the Commons kitchen that was wedged shut with a spoon and was often opened when the room became too hot.
"On opening this door cold air rushed in and it was like standing in a wind tunnel," the report, obtained by the medical technology magazine Clinica, states. "Asbestos fibres would be readily dispersed in the kitchen areas if the dust and debris was disturbed in the riser in any way."
The survey team only entered the shaft wearing protective clothing and breathing masks.
Unsecured access doors were regularly discovered. An email, dated last October and reproduced in the study, suggests rising levels of frustration among the consultants.
One said: "In view of the fact that in December 2006 I issued a report on the risers [service shafts] warning of the consequences of riser access doors being unlocked and unsealed, the Palace of Westminster authorities may wish to consider whether or not they have taken adequate steps to protect employees and visitors from exposure to asbestos fibres in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006."
Of 20 samples taken last August from four service shafts, 11 showed the presence of "amosite" in debris on the floor or walls. Amosite, or brown asbestos, is one of the more dangerous forms of the potentially carcinogenic mineral.
As a result of the inspections, the report, says: "We became aware of significant dangers and risks to the health and safety of persons not only gaining access and working in the risers and ducts but generally to all persons within the Palace of Westminister."
An earlier draft of the report, dated December 2006, said many of the risers had "airborne asbestos fibres present" and - because inadequately secured - "there is a serious risk of asbestos contamination of many areas and offices".
Among its recommendations is that access doors to shafts should be locked and the keys held centrally.
The use of asbestos as an insulating material in the sprawling recesses of the building has been previously acknowledged. An internal survey was carried out in 2005 and MPs were reassured that asbestos had been safely contained.
During a debate in the Lords on March 8 2007, peers were informed that 200 asbestos sites had been identified. A thousand air tests were carried out at more than 40 of those sites, all returning "below the detectable fibre count limit of 0.01 fibres per millilitre".
In response to questions from the Guardian, a spokeswoman for the Palace of Westminster confirmed that a survey of risers was carried out in 2007.
"The most significant risks identified were dealt with as a matter of urgency," she said. "The kitchen cupboard was identified on October 26 2007 and the door was relocked within 24 hours. The lock was later replaced ... The associated level of risk to kitchen staff when the riser cupboard was open is considered to be minimal ... All but one of the riser cupboards used by the cleaning staff are free of asbestos and are compartmentalised, inhibiting any airflow from other sections of that riser."
A House of Commons spokesman said last night: "The letter from Goddard Consulting quite understandably drew our attention to the fact that we had not implemented all the recommendations within their 2005 report. That is correct. However, this is a complex area where professional opinions may differ. There are a number of recommendations where we felt that alternative ways of managing the hazard would be equally effective and the problems were addressed accordingly."
Asbestos is widespread in older buildings. According to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, it may be left in place safely as long as its condition is monitored and it is not disturbed. The Health and Safety Executive describes asbestos as the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. The number of deaths from asbestos-related cancers is expected to peak at around 2,450 a year by 2015.
Despite the first reading of the Damages (Asbestos- Related Conditions) Bill taking place in the House of Lords on 19 October 2009, the government failed to include it in the Queen’s Speech after it ran out of Parliamentary time. A Private Members’ Bill was set to bring back payments for victims of pleural plaques but it failed to make it through the Lords before the end of the last Parliamentary session.The failure to mention the Bill in the government’s proposed legislative programme further delays the battle for sufferers of the disease to receive mandatory compensation. Victims have been seeking a return to compensation payments since Law Lords ended the right to payouts from insurers following a ruling in 2007.
Labour MP for Blaydon, Dave Anderson, said that because the coming Parliamentary session is likely to be short in advance of a General Election, it was always unlikely that the Bill would be included in the Queen’s Speech and that he was “working to find a mechanism to get (the Bill) through”.
Mr Anderson has launched a Parliamentary petition to seeking to overturn the 2007 ruling.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also launched a campaign aimed at tradesmen warning of the dangers of asbestos. The HSE said that around 20 tradesmen die each week in the UK from asbestos-related diseases. The campaign aims to highlight the danger of working with the substance and has labelled it as “the hidden killer”.
Wirral painter died from industrial disease after being exposed to asbestos at Cammell Laird shipyard
A PAINTER and decorator died after being exposed to asbestos while working at a Mersey shipyard.
A Wallasey inquest heard William Mottram, 78, was previously employed both at Cammell Laird, in Birkenhead, and on various British Rail sites.
Wirral coroner Chris- topher Johnson yesterday said the nature of his work contributed to his death last year. He returned a verdict of industrial disease, specifying asbestosis as one of the causes.
The inquest heard Mr Mottram, who died on October 30 last year, lived in Prenton Dell Road, Prenton, with his son Alan.
Coroner’s officer Ronald Hankin said he was found collapsed on the floor and an ambulance was called, but Mr Mottram was pronounced dead at 4.30pm.
Mr Hankin said Mr Mottram had chronic heart disease, high blood pressure and pneumonia.
The inquest heard tests carried out on Mr Mottram were “in keeping with normal levels of someone exposed to asbestos.”
Jul 31 2009 by Philip Kirkbride, Liverpool Echo