Eradicating the Asbestos Hazard 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Recognizing that Britain is in the grip of an “asbestos crisis,” the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health has issued calls for the complete eradication of the asbestos hazard in a report published today (October 16, 2015) (see: The asbestos crisis. Why Britain needs an eradication law), citing big numbers to substantiate the need for a definitive solution to a long-term problem:

  • by 2020, a quarter of a million Britons will have died as a result of asbestos exposure;
  • 1.3 million tradespeople are routinely exposed to asbestos at work;
  • over 6 million tonnes of asbestos were imported into Britain, most of which remains hidden within the national infrastructure;
  • half a million commercial properties and a million domestic ones contain asbestos;
  • 75% of schools contain asbestos
  • 5,000 people die every year from asbestos cancers and respiratory diseases.

Deploring the complacency over asbestos which persists throughout the country, MP Ian Lavery, Chair of the All-Party Group and its Asbestos Sub-Group, said:

“We believe that the Government needs to start now on developing a programme to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from every workplace and public place so that we can end, once and for all, this dreadful legacy which has killed so many people, and will continue to kill until asbestos is eradicated.”1

While the European Parliament has endorsed a 2028 deadline for the removal of asbestos from public buildings and the Government of Poland has a 2032 deadline for the removal of all asbestos from the national infrastructure, no such measures have been considered by the British Government which continues to toe the industry-friendly line of “safe management of a deadly hazard,” under which occupational and environmental exposures remain commonplace.

The call for definitive action has been well received by asbestos victims’ groups and trade unions. Graham Dring, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum said:

“Such a law is essential if we are to put an end to the ongoing tragedy of needless asbestos-related deaths, and the heartbreak this causes for those left behind... The only sure way to prevent exposure in the future is to get it [asbestos] removed… We owe it to future generations to stop the epidemic of asbestos diseases by removing the root cause from our workplaces, public buildings and homes.”2

Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, echoed Mr. Dring’s comments in a statement also released today:

“The proposal from the all-party group for the safe removal and disposal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings is the only way of ensuring that future generations do not have to live with the continuing legacy that asbestos will leave unless action is taken now.”3

Support has also been expressed by the Hazards Campaign, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, the GMB, Unite and UCATT trade unions.4

In Australia, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) was set up in 2013 to spearhead an integrated response to the country’s asbestos epidemic. Commenting on the call by British MPs for urgent action, ASEA’s CEO Peter Tighe said:

“Management of asbestos-containing materials is only an interim measure; even if asbestos is managed in a so called ‘effective’ way it is sitting there as a known risk. In Australia, we have seen Acts of God such as cyclones, floods, bush fires and other disasters change the risk level in an instant. We all know the first tenet of risk mitigation is to remove the risk and this should be our ultimate goal.”

While Britain retains poll position as the country with the highest mortality incidence of asbestos cancer, its neighbors are also badly affected. A Parliamentary declaration currently circulating in Brussels highlights the consequences of hazardous exposures in Europe – “The EU estimates that asbestos-related cancers will cause up to 500,000 deaths by 2030 in Western Europe” – and urges the European Commission to “create and finance a Europe-wide programme aimed at the removal of all asbestos from public and private buildings.”5 It is now well past time for the governments in Westminster and Brussels to confront their respective asbestos challenges and heed the demands from civil society for “a safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place… [Only then] can we ensure that future generations will not have to experience the same deadly epidemic from asbestos-related diseases that we suffer today.”6

October 16, 2015


1 Press Release by MP Ian Lavery, Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. Parliamentary group calls for eradication of all asbestos in Britain. October 16, 2015.

2 Press Release by Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum. Asbestos Victims Groups welcome proposals for new asbestos eradication law. October 16, 2015.

3 TUC. TUC supports call for eradication of all asbestos in Britain. October 16, 2015.

4 UCATT calls for eradication of all asbestos in Britain. October 16, 2015.
Unite backs MPs’ call for asbestos eradication law. October 16, 2015.

5 Written Declaration submitted under Rule 136 of the Rules of Procedure on asbestos. September 7, 2015.

6 All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. The asbestos crisis. Why Britain needs an eradication law. October 16, 2015.



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