Fighting occupational cancer, including asbestos-related mesothelioma, continues to be one of the most urgent and vital of issues affecting various smaller industrial and commercial organisations, which operate in Britain today.

A key challenge is always to maintain asbestos awareness in the relevant industries and ensure company employers, from firms big and small, know what they must do to protect their workforce against exposure to fatal carcinogens. In May 2011, HM Government Office for Science said that it was not possible to determine a safe threshold for exposure to white ‘chrysotile’ asbestos and thus, the fibres remains classified as a Class 1 carcinogen.

A new campaign, launched by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) at the House of Commons, calls for “a collaboration of government and employers.”

Seeking commitment from employers

Entitled “No Time To Lose”, the campaign aims to tackle occupational disease as part of a ‘culture of care’ to “manage health in the same way as safety” and is backed by Macmillan Cancer Support, business leaders and academics. In addition, IOSH seeks a signed pledge by businesses to “show their commitment to control carcinogenic exposure in their workplace.”

Included in the IOSH campaign will be a newly published guidance for employers to help them identify and prevent potential cancer causing risks, awareness training for apprentices and the setting up of a national database of work-related carcinogen exposure.

According to IOSH a determined effort is required to “educate and protect future generations from work-related cancer”, a view supported by Imperial College research, which they claim also points to the need to find new and better ways to bring home the message to smaller businesses and the self-employed.

Asbestos still one of the top causes of occupational cancer

Past exposure to carcinogens in the UK has claimed 8,000 lives and around 13,500 new cases are registered each year, say the IOSH, which also places exposure to asbestos as still one of the top causes of occupational cancer.

The total annual number of UK mesothelioma fatalities caused by exposure to asbestos is generally reported to be 2,000, but the figure is based on 2012 statistics. The most recently available data, released by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in June 2014, shows that the number of deaths had risen to 2,291 in 2011, which rose again to 2,535 in 2012 – an increase of nearly 11 per cent in just one year.

As is regularly reported in the press, there are still a continuing number of small businesses, mostly in the building trades who fail to carry out asbestos surveys before starting work or deliberately disregard regulations and procedures if asbestos materials are uncovered.

Robust inspection and enforcement

While there are inevitably instances where a communication oversight between employers, duty managers and contractors might cause a problem involving the presence of asbestos, in some cases, which are brought to court, it’s clear that some firms deliberately ignore HSE advice and enforcement notices.

According to HSE figures, more than 1,500 enforcement notices were issued to firms who failed to control asbestos exposure between 2006 and 2009 and since 2009/10, over 300 notices were issued year on year.

IOSH believe that awareness-raising training and education are not always enough. In cases where employers have failed to take “reasonable steps to protect workers from the potential risk of exposure” IOSH suggest a more robust inspection and enforcement process must be undertaken.

Click here to find out more about “No Time To Lose” campaign at the IOSH website