Deaths from exposure to asbestos have reached crisis levels, according to new figures released this week.
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2017 there were 2,523 deaths from mesothelioma. This is a similar number to the previous five years.
As asbestos-related cancers can occur as many as 50 years after exposure, deaths from exposure are thought to be reaching their peak, years after the widespread industrial use of the carcinogen between the 1950s and 70s.
In an article in The Guardian, it is stated that rates of mesothelioma, which is almost always fatal, nearly doubled between 1995, when there were 1,317 cases, and 2017. More than half of deaths from mesothelioma were people over 75 and 82% were men.
It is estimated that a similar number of people die from asbestos-related lung cancers, but this cannot be so accurately measured as establishing a cause for lung cancer is more difficult.
The HSE predicts that annual numbers will continue at current levels for the rest of this decade before starting to decline, though it has previously anticipated earlier falls.
Deaths from mesothelioma are high among people who worked in the shipbuilding and construction industries – especially carpenters, plumbers and electricians – as well as those who worked in factories that produced asbestos products.
Roger Maddocks, a partner with the law firm Irwin Mitchell LLP who specialises in workplace injuries and illness, said: “In many cases people are now paying the price for criminal failings by industry and the government, who were responsible for the lack of action on the part of the Factory Inspectorate [the precursor to the HSE].”
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