Action Mesothelioma Day (AMD) takes place today, Friday 7 July 2023, when all across the country people will gather to mark a national day of remembrance and contemplation for people who have been impacted by the disease.
My colleagues and I are very pleased to be attending events held by asbestos support groups throughout the UK, including GMAVS, READLEY, MAVS, CAVS, SARAG, DAST, MESSY, LASAG, ASCE, SWASAG, CLASAG and national charity Mesothelioma UK.
This year, ActionMeso, an organisation supported by Leigh Day and other law firms to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos, are continuing their #GoBlueForMeso
campaign, encouraging prominent local landmarks and people’s homes to light up blue on AMD, to raise awareness of the condition.
The first AMD took place on 27 February 2006, after a motion was signed by over 100 hundred MPs supporting the Mesothelioma Charter
, a 15 point plan calling for better care and treatment for patients and for more funding be made available for research.
The charter also recognised that asbestos exposure was an ongoing problem, demanding a safe working environment for employees, and for employers to “Identify all asbestos in their properties and organise its safe removal where practical or necessary when work is being carried out.”
The best approach to dealing with the asbestos in our public buildings has been the topic of recent parliamentary debate and front page news
. On the 17th anniversary of the first AMD, we reflect on the progress which has been made and the challenges which still lie ahead.
The ongoing problem with asbestos
Asbestos exposure is not a thing of the past.
Asbestos was used extensively in public buildings and people’s workplaces, including schools, hospitals and offices. We are increasingly being contacted by people diagnosed with mesothelioma who did not work directly with asbestos and who were exposed to asbestos which was disturbed in their working environment.
Many of our schools still contain asbestos. A 2012 report
from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety stated that more than 75 per cent of Britain’s state schools contain asbestos, much of which is badly maintained. The report highlighted that since 1987 it has been known that everyday activities in schools, such as slamming of doors, can lead to the levels of deadly asbestos fibres released into the air being more than six hundred times greater than background levels, despite the fact that the asbestos panels around the door appeared to be in good condition.
The report noted that more than 228 school teachers
had died of mesothelioma since 1980, with 140 dying in the previous ten years
. Calling this a national scandal, the group called for the phased removal of all asbestos from schools.
The policy of successive governments has been that unless asbestos poses an immediate risk, it should be left and managed in place. The Control of Asbestos Regulations have been in force since 2012. Enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the regulations confer a duty to manage asbestos by keeping an asbestos register and carrying out risk assessments, to ensure asbestos materials are properly inspected to prevent exposure to occupants.
In 2015, the All-Party Parliamentary Group called for all asbestos to be removed from all public buildings, citing that most of the six million tonnes of asbestos fibres which were imported to Britain still remain, and that it is not realistic to expect these will remain undisturbed indefinitely. They also provided evidence from surveys of schools demonstrating that asbestos materials were not being surveyed and inspected properly.