A new survey of UK construction workers reveals a shocking number of employees exposed to asbestos on the job, and an even greater number unaware that asbestos causes mesothelioma and other conditions.
An Eye-Opening Survey
Britain’s Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned the study. Five hundred construction workers answered a series of questions about how much they know about asbestos and how to deal with the harmful material at a building site.
The responses revealed that a quarter of active construction workers might have been exposed to asbestos—largely due to low or no awareness at all about its dangers.
Over 66% of workers surveyed did not know that asbestos causes mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Other key findings from the survey include:
- 32% of workers have never checked for asbestos at a construction site
- 15% of workers did not know an asbestos registry exists
- 18% of workers would not know how to handle asbestos upon discovery
- 15% of workers were never informed about the dangers of asbestos
In light of the survey results, IOSH President Craig Foyle is asking companies to step up and make construction sites safer for workers.
“We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them.”
Data Shows Uncertainty and Ignorance
The IOSH survey demonstrates a lack of knowledge about asbestos that is putting construction workers in harm’s way every day. The fact that two-thirds of respondents were unaware of asbestos as a carcinogen suggests their employers and instructors never warned workers about the hazards.
“Clearly, people are being exposed to [asbestos],” said Foyle. “In the decades to come, it is likely that these people and their families will still be suffering unless we all do something about it.”
The survey is part of a broader awareness campaign called “No Time to Lose.”
The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness of workplace carcinogens and educate companies around the world about how they can protect their employees. According to IOSH, asbestos is the leading cause of cancer at the workplace.
One in four construction workers reporting that they have been exposed to asbestos is a chilling statistic. It is vital for employees who have worked with asbestos to visit their doctor regularly for health screenings. Mesothelioma may take decades to develop, and symptoms often do not begin until the cancer has advanced to late stages.
Funding for Greater Awareness Needed
While asbestos has been banned in the U.S. since the 1980s, the toxic mineral is still used in some construction products today. The Environmental Protection Agency permits some building material containing asbestos under its allowable limit to be manufactured and imported into the United States.
Some construction materials that continue to contain asbestos today include:
- Cement shingles
- Piping wrap/insulation
- Cement blocks and sheets
- Vinyl flooring
- Felt roofing
- Hot water tank and boiler insulation
- Spray-on coatings and solutions
Construction workers also face asbestos exposure threats when working on and around old buildings. Many structures built before the 1989 asbestos ban contain asbestos in the walls, roof, floor and pipes. When renovators or demolition teams undertake major work that disturbs asbestos, the fibers enter the air and put the entire crew at risk.
The IOSH survey shows that many construction workers—and possibly their employers—do not understand the risks involved with working around asbestos.
Worse, some construction crews are aware of the danger but are not taking the necessary steps to prevent exposure.
Greater funding is needed for campaigns like No Time to Lose to continue their work in raising awareness about asbestos in the workplace. Surveys, studies and research that prove the ongoing dangers help to bolster campaigns’ efforts to protect employees from future illness.
To learn more about the No Time to Lose campaign and how it aims to educate construction companies worldwide, visit the campaign website. You can also read the Mesothelioma Cancer Network’s overview of asbestos exposure at construction sites to learn more about the threat to Americans today.