Although there has been plenty of news coverage of asbestos deaths since it was first revealed to be a threat to human health, most people assume that those who are the most likely to be affected are electricians, factory workers and people working in trades, such as construction. In actual fact, some of the highest numbers of deaths from asbestos have come from two professions: doctors and teachers.
Figures collected by the Health and Safety Executive have shown increasing numbers of deaths related to asbestos over the past couple of years. Numbers have been going up ever since 1980 when records of asbestos related deaths began – in that year only three deaths were recorded. Between 2006 and 2008 that figure had risen to 49 and that doesn’t take into account anyone who died from mesothelioma over the age of 75.
The UK unfortunately has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world as the British government allowed the ongoing use of asbestos long after most other countries had banned it. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can be caused by inhaling asbestos fibres and is the most common problem related to asbestos exposure. It normally starts in the lungs, but may also start in the abdomen, and symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough and a pain in the lower back or side of the chest. As, in most cases, mesothelioma is only diagnosed at a late stage the outlook for those who contract the disease can be poor.
Asbestos has been found to cause most cases of pleural mesothelioma, which is the type that starts in the lungs. There have historically been many more cases diagnosed in men than women but recent statistics indicate that women are beginning to catch up. Estimates state that in the UK more than 9 out of 10 men with mesothelioma and more than 8 out of 10 women have been in contact with asbestos. So, what has been causing the increased numbers of asbestos related deaths among professions such as teachers and doctors?
Although many of us assume that contact with asbestos comes from working with it, in fact in can also be the result of simply occupying the same building as a location where asbestos has been disturbed. Before the effects of asbestos were fully realised, it was used in a huge number of buildings and many of those constructed between the 1950s and the 1990s used asbestos to do it, as the material was a cost effective and effective form of insulation and fireproofing. Two of the types of buildings where asbestos is most commonly found are schools and hospitals. Classroom asbestos dust has claimed the lives of many teachers over the past couple of years – and the same impact has been felt by those working in hospitals. As mesothelioma rates continue to rise this looks to be an ongoing issue and a worry for anyone who has worked in similar circumstances.