The story below is sadly typical of the two thousand odd deaths which occur from exposure to asbestos fibres annually, not only from people within the industry-either ex laggers or asbestos removal operatives- but also many other trades whose operatives worked alongside them e.g.  Pipe-fitters, electricians, plasterers etc, sometimes in very closed in environments such as boiler houses and plant rooms. The raw asbestos used to insulate pipes and boilers was usually mixed by hand in old oil drums by filling the drums one third full with water and then adding the raw asbestos from one hundred weight bags poured into the drums. This obviously generated an enormous amount of fibres (there is enough room on a single pinhead for in excess of five million respirable asbestos fibres) and any person working within the area would be inhaling the fibres constantly.

Although the use of asbestos was banned in 1999, there are still thousands of tons of asbestos in various buildings including schools, hospitals, power stations and commercial buildings throughout the UK, and in recent years campaigns have been made to bring awareness of the problem to construction workers and the general public, however, unlike working with electricity or on scaffolding where  electrocution or fall from height  is a very real risk of immediate death, exposure to asbestos can take many years to have an effect, usually between 15 & 45 years. This can have the effect of removing the sense of danger and lead to workers not wearing the appropriate RPE & PPE which is essential for their protection whilst working with or disturbing asbestos. To combat this and ensure people are aware of the dangers of exposure to and inhalation of asbestos fibres, it is now required for all persons likely to come into contact with asbestos during the course of their work to have asbestos awareness training.

In addition to the danger of workers, it has been found that the families of workers have also been exposed to asbestos fibres resulting in serious illness and death. This has been due to workers becoming contaminated with asbestos to their hair, finger nails and clothes and taking it home with them, indeed, many laggers wives from the early nineteen hundreds to the 1970’s have died from washing their husbands asbestos contaminated clothing.

David Doyle Story

“Many people think there is only one type of asbestos that affects them – that all the others are safe – and they are not. There is no asbestos that is safe.”

Jean Doyle, 69, should have been celebrating her golden wedding anniversary this year. But tragically it wasn’t to be.  Sadly her husband died three years ago at the age of 67, after being diagnosed with mesothelioma – caused by asbestos.

Dave worked as a joiner all his life and was exposed to asbestos while using the material to make properties fire resistant.  Now Jean has joined with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos.

Any building built or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain the deadly substance, and six joiners are still dying every week as a consequence of being exposed to the dust while at work.

Jean, from Poynton in Stockport, remembers how the risks of working with asbestos were unknown when her husband was younger, and she is determined to make sure today’s tradesmen protect themselves by wearing specialist masks.

HSE’s ‘Asbestos, the hidden killer’ campaign aims to tackle the rising number of asbestos-related deaths by educating today’s tradesmen about the risk that asbestos presents to them.

Dave passed away in September 2006 after being married to Jean for 47 years. He had been diagnosed with mesothelioma just eight months earlier, and had gone to his doctor after getting a persistent cough and feeling run down. His wife says he was acting like a man in his nineties and had lost all his energy.  Dave was referred to hospital specialists who discovered fluid on his lung. Eventually he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and told he had months to live.

The campaign is close to Jean’s heart as her sons Stephen and David, and grandson Adam have all followed in her husband’s footsteps, and joined the building trade. She is determined that they will not suffer the same fate.

She said:

“My grandson is made very aware of health and safety on his Site Joinery apprenticeship at Stockport College. But when Dave started working in the building trade, in the late ’50s, no one ever specified that asbestos was a dangerous product.  Many people think that there is only one type of asbestos that affects them – that all the others are safe – and they are not. There is no asbestos that is safe. I don’t care what colour it is. It’s just not safe.  Unlike normal dust, when you’re in a dusty room or whatever, you start coughing and it comes up with the mucus. But with asbestos it doesn’t. It penetrates the lung and that’s where all the problems start.”

Jean is urging anyone who works with asbestos to wear proper protective equipment:

“If people don’t wear masks that are suitable for the job they’re doing – not just an ordinary piece of cloth – we’re going to have this problem over and over again.  It devastates families and family life. If I hadn’t had my family around me, I don’t know what I’d have done. It’s a nightmare living with mesothelioma – a living nightmare.”

Dave’s final hours are etched on Jean’s memory:

“We were called into a side room at about five o’clock in the evening and the doctor said to us he didn’t expect Dave to survive the next couple of hours. By eight o’clock, he was dead. And that was it. I’ll never forget the blood draining from his face. How do you deal with that?”

The couple first noticed something was wrong while they were on a family holiday. Sadly, it was the last holiday they would spend together.

Jean said: “There were so many things Dave wanted to do. He wanted to travel and see more of the world. We’d booked a holiday to go on a cruise to the Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle but we had to cancel. We wanted to do so much.  I remember we got up early one morning and we were talking about planning different things he wanted to do. He wanted to travel the length of Britain on the railway. So I said, right, well get yourself better and that’s what we’ll do. But we never did.”

Thousands of people are dying every year from asbestos-related diseases. Jean hopes the HSE ‘Asbestos, the hidden killer’ campaign will help bring home the dangers, and help workers realise they could be putting their lives at risk if they don’t take action.

What Does It Look Like?

Sprayed Flock

sprayed-flock

Sprayed flock contains blue asbestos (crocidolite) and is the most friable of all applications of asbestos.

Asbestos Cement

asbestos-cement

Asbestos cement contains white (chrysotile) asbestos which is among the least friable application of asbestos being bound up within the cement.

asbestos-insulation

Asbestos insulation can contain white, blue or brown (or in some cases all three) asbestos. Brown asbestos is known as amosite or grunerite and is among the more friable asbestos.

asbestos-board

Asbestos Insulating Board, commonly referred to as AIB generally contains brown asbestos.

Although there are other forms of asbestos, the above, Blue (Crocidolite), White (Chrysotile), and Brown (Amosite) were generally the only types used commercially. The friability of asbestos is important because asbestos is only harmful if it is inhaled and the more friable the product, the more fibres are generated, therefore the more likelihood of harm being caused. Although white asbestos is equally dangerous as blue and brown asbestos, it is often mixed with other products such as cement (in A/C products), and bitumen (in floor tiles, toilet cisterns, damp coursing etc.)this naturally inhibits the friability and generation of fibres, therefore reducing the risk of inhalation of fibres.