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GMB Birmingham & West Midlands Region

Asbestos

Asbestos is still the biggest single cause of work related deaths in Great Britain.  More people die of asbestos related diseases in this country each year than die on the roads.

Since Government figures were first released in 1992 they have showed a continuous rise in the number of British deaths from asbestos related diseases. In 1978 the total number of deaths was 499.  In 2007 there were 2,156 deaths reported.  In 2009 it was predicted that there would be over 90,000 deaths of mesothelioma (asbestos induced cancer) by 2050.  Currently in Britain over 4,000 people die a year from asbestos related diseases.  Over 2,000 of the deaths alone are due to the fatal asbestos cancer mesothelioma.  There is no cure for mesothelioma and most sufferers will die within 12 to 18 months of diagnosis.  Symptoms of the disease on average take some 30 to 40 years to develop following exposure to asbestos.

Although many of the cases arise from exposure in such places at ship yards, power stations, construction sites, railway work shops and asbestos factories.  Asbestos is also found in any commercial and municipal building constructed or which had substantial renovation prior to 1975.  It is now known that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.  All asbestos exposure increases the risk of mesothelioma and even very slight exposure to asbestos dust can and does cause mesothelioma.  

The GMB has been at the forefront of campaigning to raise awareness about the risk of asbestos in public buildings.  Around 500,000 work places in the UK are known to contain asbestos including schools and local authority premises.  

Over 14,000 schools were built between 1945 and 1975 when the use of asbestos was at its height.  Many of these schools contain amounts of asbestos within their structure.  Other schools were refurbished during the same period with extensive use of asbestos materials.  Approximately half the schools in the country are system built.  Until the early 1980’s asbestos was extensively used in their structure.  The asbestos is deteriorating through age, vandalism, fair wear and tear, leaking roofs, decades of under funding, lack of maintenance and lack of asbestos management.  

The GMB’s legal service with the assistance of Unionline Solicitors specialist asbestos lawyers has recovered compensation for members who developed mesothelioma in a range of public sector jobs, examples include a kitchen assistant exposed to asbestos in a council canteen, a caretaker in a primary school and a swimming pool attendant at a leisure centre.  If you were asked to name three jobs you associate with asbestos disease it is unlikely that you would have thought of these.  

The GMB demands the most vigilant standards of work place health and safety to eliminate asbestos exposure.  Many workers however in schools and local authorities are still at risk and those who have worked where asbestos is present should register their details on the Union’s Asbestos Exposure Database.  

Symptoms of mesothelioma usually take 30 to 40 years to occur after exposure to asbestos and consequently many employers have long since ceased trading and it proves impossible to trace insurers.  The GMB supports the campaign for the introduction of an Employers Liability Insurance Bureau.  This would offer a fund of last resort in circumstances where an employer was insolvent or had long since ceased trading and where no insurance cover could be established.  

It is unjust if a person dies of an industrial disease contracted due to the negligence of an employer and then subsequently is unable to receive compensation due to the fact that no insurer can be traced.  Whereas if a person is killed as a result of a road traffic accident due to the negligence of an uninsured driver full compensation will be paid through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.   

GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny said "Bereavement compensation for families of those who have died from mesothelioma, many of whom have been our members, should be equal no matter where you were exposed to asbestos in the UK. The law must be changed to ensure families in England and Wales are entitled to the same level of compensation for bereavement as a family in Scotland. The current imbalance is unjust and cannot continue."

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, even though it may have been many years ago, please contact Unionline on 0300 333 0303.

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