A recent survey reveals that nearly half of respondents (40 per cent) have “knowingly lived, worked or owned a building” containing asbestos. More than 1 in 7 (13.3 per cent) also admitted that either themselves or a member of the family have been affected by asbestos. More significantly, 8 in 10 (83.3 per cent) did not know that victims of asbestos exposure diagnosed with mesothelioma who have been unable to trace a former employer can still apply for mesothelioma compensation.

The survey, carried out by a Derbyshire asbestos removals firm, appears to show a high degree of asbestos awareness among many ordinary people but a lack of greater concern as to the potential health risk. This is surprising as Derbyshire, alongside other regions of the Midlands and the north of England, is often referred to as a traditional “asbestos” blackspot where thousands of men were employed in asbestos using industries during the peak period of the 1960s and 70s – within living memory. More than 200 schools in Derbyshire were found to contain asbestos, according to recent findings obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The results also echo a 2011 survey, which revealed that while more than 1 in 3 building contractors knew they disturbed asbestos while working on a property, 1 in 4 had no idea they had been in direct contact with the deadly fibre insulation.

Asbestos could be present in any premises built up to 2000

Between the 1950s and early 1980s, around 170,000 tons of asbestos was annually imported into the UK, and even during the 1990s, around 10,000 tons of white asbestos was still coming into the country each year. Asbestos insulation was the go-to insulation material for almost every type of public, private and commercial building.

Imports of white asbestos were only discontinued at the end of 1999. As a result, the Health and safety Executive (HSE) and the professional construction industry repeatedly warn that asbestos could be present in any premises built up to 2000. Residential premises, including local authority housing and council estates could also contain asbestos by up to 10 per cent in materials, such as AIB (asbestos wall board) cement panel ceilings, tiles and textured coatings. At least 5 per cent could also be present in fire protection materials, including the underside of roofs, boiler linings and cupboard enclosures, and pipework lagging.

Yet whenever asbestos is suspected or actually found to be present, the response is typically spilt between a firm denial by local authorities that there is any real risk posed and an urgent call by community residents for immediate action because of the potential health danger.

In many people’s minds the dangers of asbestos are “consigned to history”

The presence of asbestos insulation materials still hidden or failing to be correctly managed in millions of UK properties, including more than 8 in 10 schools, continues to be one of the longest-running issues. The results of the surveys, seem to suggest that perhaps in many people’s minds the dangers of asbestos are somehow lessened because it is no longer in use and therefore “consigned to history”.

Yet, in July 2016, the HSE published their latest “Statistics on Fatal Injuries in the Workplace in Great Britain”, which showed that the annual number of mesothelioma deaths had tipped 2,500, above the long term prediction of 2,100 deaths. In other words, six people could now die of the fatal malignant cancer every day in England and Wales.

Tracing a former employer and or their insurer is a standard legal procedure

Victims of asbestos exposure are almost always only diagnosed with mesothelioma after 30 to 40 years have elapsed from an initial period of exposure. They and their family may feel that it will be impossible to try and pursue a claim from a former employer, whose business may no longer exist. However, tracing a former employer and or their insurer is a standard legal procedure, which often leads to an early out of court settlement. In 2014, The Diffuse Mesothlioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) was introduced for those who are unable to trace a former employer, and are eligible to apply. i.e. diagnosed after 25th July 2012.

Britain continues to have one of the world’s highest numbers of mesothelioma deaths, with a four-fold increase just in the last thirty years, according to the Office of National Statistics. Between 2000 and 2011 – mortality rates had increased by 20 per cent and 40 per cent in men and women, respectively. The number of male mesothelioma cases had steadily risen by more than 11 fold between the 1970s and 2011, and by 8 times over for female victims of the fatal disease during the same period, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ).