Simpson Millar Solicitors Highlight the Need to Combat Work-Related Industrial Disease Illnesses
By Law News
The latest statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that there were 2,268 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposure.
Simpson Millar Solicitors, a leading legal firm representing clients with work-related industrial disease illnesses, calls for renewed efforts to protect employees after recent data showed that 1.8 million workers were suffering from work-related ill health in 2021/22.
While the figures show a decline in certain industrial disease cases, there is still a long way to go in ensuring the safety and well-being of workers in the UK.
Occupational Exposures Continue to Pose Significant Risks
The HSE also reports that on average over the last three years, there were an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems caused, or made worse, by work.
Around 12,000 lung disease deaths each year are linked to past exposure at work, which includes conditions such as asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, non-asbestos-related lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Mesothelioma Deaths Show Encouraging Decline, Yet Concerns Remain
In 2021, there were 2,268 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain. This is lower than the average of 2,520 deaths per year between 2012 and 2019, aligning with earlier projections that annual deaths would gradually decrease during the 2020s.
The majority of mesothelioma cases now occur in individuals aged over 75 years, and gender-specific data reveals that there were 1,867 male deaths.
Men who worked in the building industry during the period when asbestos was extensively used are at the highest risk of mesothelioma. Approximately 85% of all male mesotheliomas are attributed to asbestos exposures that occurred in occupational settings. The disease's long latency period of at least 30 years means that most mesothelioma deaths today result from past exposures during the widespread industrial use of asbestos from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Jobs particularly associated with the construction industry, such as carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, continue to be recorded on death certificates for mesothelioma. Other occupations, notably metal plate workers associated with the shipbuilding industry, are also recorded more frequently than expected. For men born in the 1940s, approximately 46% of mesotheliomas are attributed to former builders, with 17% attributed to carpentry work alone. The extensive use of insulation boards containing brown asbestos (amosite) in buildings for fire protection purposes is identified as a key factor in causing higher risks for these former workers.
However, the data also shows that there were 401 female deaths due to mesothelioma in 2021 and predictions suggest that there will continue to be 400-500 female deaths relating to the disease per year during the 2020s.
This can be attributed to asbestos exposure in certain occupational settings – including schools and hospitals – as well as secondary exposure and domestic exposure which includes women who came into contact with asbestos fibres which were brought into the home by family members.
The National Audit Office says that there are around 21,500 schools containing buildings still fitted with asbestos in Britain, as reported by LBC, National Education Union says that about 400 former teachers have died from the disease since 1980, 300 of them since 2001.
Deborah Krelle, Partner at Simpson Millar and Head of Industrial Disease, expressed her concern and emphasised the importance of ongoing vigilance in safeguarding workers' health: "The latest data from the HSE show that there is still a huge amount of work to be done to prevent work-related industrial disease illnesses – particularly those caused by exposure to toxic materials and chemicals, and as a result of dangerous working conditions.
“The statistics shine a light on the risks posed by occupational lung diseases – both on the individuals affected and on the economy - and show why it is so important that the health and safety of workers should always be the number one priority.
“It’s also concerning to see that while deaths caused by mesothelioma are now decreasing, there is still evidence to suggest that people who work in schools, as well as other publicly owned buildings, are still at risk.
“We wholeheartedly support the calls for the government to put in place a national strategy for planned removal, as well as creating a national register of properties which contain asbestos, introducing regular reporting of air quality around buildings containing asbestos, and implementing minimum training standards.
”Meanwhile, at Simpson Millar, we are committed to advocating for the rights of our clients affected by industrial illnesses and will continue our fight for justice and compensation," she added.
Simpson Millar Solicitors calls upon employers, authorities, and organisations to prioritise the health and safety of workers and implement effective preventative measures. By working together, we can create a safer working environment for all and reduce the impact of work-related industrial diseases on employees and their families.