Former England footballer Ian Wright is supporting a campaign to reduce the rising number of deaths from asbestos-related disease.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) campaign, Asbestos: The Hidden Killer, has revealed that 20 tradesmen a week in the UK die from asbestos damage to their lungs. Workers are still being exposed to the substance even though it’s been banned.

Exposure to asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Around 4,000 people a year die from asbestos-related disease. These diseases include mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the membrane around the lung, and the same type of lung cancer associated with smoking.

Many of these deaths are among tradesmen, such as electricians, builders, plasterers and plumbers. The death rate among this group is increasing.

The asbestos risk

According to the HSE, many workers, particularly tradesmen, assume they’re not at risk because asbestos was banned many years ago. However, as asbestos remains in many buildings it is still a risk to workers, even today.

Asbestos is likely to be present in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000. An estimated half a million buildings contain it.

If a building containing asbestos is repaired or maintained and the asbestos fibres are disturbed, for instance, by drilling or cutting, they can easily be inhaled as a deadly dust.

“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,” says Steve Coldrick, director of the HSE’s Disease Reduction Programme.

How to protect yourself from asbestos

The HSE has the following advice to workers who may be exposed to asbestos:

  • Avoid working with asbestos wherever possible. If you’re not sure whether asbestos is present, don’t start work. Your boss or the customer should tell you whether or not asbestos is present.
  • Don’t work if the asbestos material present is a sprayed coating, board, or lagging on pipes and boilers. Only a licensed contractor should work on these. You can’t work with some kinds of asbestos as they’re too dangerous.
  • Where asbestos is present, you can only continue to work if you’ve had asbestos training and you’re using the right equipment.
  • To minimise asbestos dust, use hand tools instead of power tools, and keep materials damp but not wet. Clean up as you go, using a      special (class H) vacuum cleaner (not a brush). Double-bag asbestos waste and label the bags properly.
  • When working with asbestos, always wear a proper mask. Ordinary dust masks are not effective.


If you think your illness is attributed to asbestos exposure in the workplace, the Abacus personal injury team may be able to assist you in claiming damages. Call us on 0161 833 0044 or email your details through to us at