I first came across asbestos related disease in my earliest days of nursing. I was an auxiliary nurse on a male medical ward – an accidental job that led to an accidental career, which occasionally takes me full circle and back to the case of Brian. Brian had spent most of his life driving a train but before he managed to secure a job driving one, he worked for 5 years in a scrap yard breaking them apart. This involved, among other things, stripping out vast amounts of asbestos lining used as fire retardant and insulation. Asbestos was very effective and cheaply available.
But 40 years later it was killing him. You see that’s the problem with asbestos. It gets down into your lungs and lies there working it’s horror for decades. It’s called the latent period; that time between exposure and disease. There was a great article in HR Review recently highlighting asbestos as the single greatest cause of work related deaths in the UK. Latest estimates are that approximately 4,000 people die each year from asbestos-related ill health and because we are talking about something that many were exposed to in the 1970s and 80s, that number is not going to fall particularly quickly.
There is still plenty of asbestos about. I have come across it in buildings where employees are worried for their health because of it. I have also seen it in the lagging of exhausts in jet engine test sites. If sealed up and left alone it’s relatively harmless but once someone decides to remove it, tamper with it or it deteriorates to the point where fibres are released, it can be very dangerous. Great care and well controlled methods of work are required to remove it. If you have it in your building or you’re involved in removing it or handling it , don’t underestimate it or you may pay a high price later in life. You will need professional advice from a reputable organisation experienced in asbestos care, handling and removal.