Monday, 19 April 2010

Asbestos Awareness and `Advocacy` - For Chris

Not so long ago, my oldest friend died of an industrial disease, malignant mesothelioma, contracted whilst working for a short period mixing asbestos fibres for use as roofing insulation and then for a time working as a roofer installing the material.

He spent only a very short time working for the company in question, and that quite some time ago. So much so that I hardly recall him mentioning it during the twenty-plus years we knew each other.

Recording a verdict of death due to industrial disease, the Coroner commented, "His death is associated with working with asbestos. This is just the tip of the iceberg, really, with asbestos. It is causing all these deaths."

Clearly he was right. The most perfunctory of searches on the web soon uncovered a similar case, a man who lived near to me. He worked as a fitter/welder in a power station for only five years in the `70s, and then moved on to other work, but tragically the consequences of working inside the towers with no protective clothing struck him in later life.

My friend did at least have the comfort of knowing his family were provided for. He was a member of one of the country`s largest trade unions, and they employed a specialist solicitor. The solicitors already had half-a-dozen ongoing comparable cases involving the same employer, who had already indicated they would admit liability.

Others do not have that comfort. In another case I found on the web, a man had contracted an asbestos-related disease whilst working for a company that no longer exists today. Attempts to trace their insurers had failed, leaving him with nothing. Understandably, the man was adding his voice to calls for the government to step in and provide compensation in these circumstances. More recently, campaigners have pressed insurance companies to set up a Fund of Last Resort for those who find themselves in this situation.

There are a number of sites which may prove helpful to anyone needing to know more about the issues surrounding asbestos-relate illness ;

Health and Safety Executive -

British Safety Council -

Trade Union Congress -

Hazards magazine -

Labour Start -

(trade unions/international)

Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team -

(The name is a little anachronistic now. DAST is actually based in Chesterfield on the Notts/Yorks border and it`s activities cover the  East Midlandsas a whole and not just Derbyshire. It`s site provides links to equivalent bodies in other areas and to some national bodies.)

Building and Woodworkers International -

(I must admit I know next to nothing about this one. I`ve had a quick look at the site and as far as I can see the views expressed are perfectly reasonable. In any case, I assume most people reading this know their own minds and don`t need too much guidance from me.)

(American site - once again, I don`t know much about this one but it seems it might be helpful)

Canada is one of the last asbestos-producing nations in the world and the second largest exporter of the substance, which is banned in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian government provides funding for the Chrysotile Institute, an `asbestos advocacy body` which promotes the export of Canadian asbestos abroad, mainly to India and Indonesia. The Institute claims to educate developing countries on the safe use of the product, though campaigners are unconvinced, pointing out that symptoms of  asbestos-related illness can take 20 years or more to show up.

Despite worldwide condemnation, the Chrysotile Institute, business groups and, disgracefully, a number of Canadian trade unions have formed a lobbying group, Partners for the Use of Asbestos, to lobby for the Canadian asbestos industry. One wonders how many of them would be happy to have it in their own homes.

In the interest of balance, I was going to provide a link for Partners... but could not trace their site. I did find  and .

As you`ve probably gathered, there are various issues around asbestos and it`s uses and I`ve only really scratched the surface with this brief account. Hopefully it will provide some helpful links and comments for anyone wishing to know more about the subject.

Lastly, it`s worth noting that 28 April is Worker`s Memorial Day - visit for details.

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