Mesothelioma In The UK

The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma mortality in the world due to the widespread use of asbestos in the past.

The widespread use of asbestos in construction and shipbuilding industries has resulted in the UK having one of the highest rates of mesothelioma-related death rates in the world. According to the latest available data, the number of mesothelioma-related deaths in the UK increased from 2,291 in 2011 to 2,535 in 2012.

The number of newly reported mesothelioma cases increased as well. New mesothelioma claims submitted to the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit rose from 1,985 in 2011 to 2,125 in 2012. According to the NHS, the number of deaths is not expected to decrease in the near future. Experts project that mesothelioma will have caused approximately 90,000 deaths in the UK by 2050.

This high, increasing mortality rate is also a legacy of the government’s slow move to regulate and ban use of the dangerous mineral. The first ban of asbestos in the UK occurred as recently as 1985, when the government prohibited the use of blue and brown asbestos, leaving white asbestos, the most widely used type, largely unregulated. In 1999, however, the government expanded the ban to include white asbestos.

Despite increased asbestos-related regulations in 2006 and again in 2012, asbestos is still present in many public and private spaces in the UK. Learning more about the specific uses of asbestos can help decrease the risk of exposure and prevent the development of mesothelioma.

Asbestos in the UK

Asbestos gained widespread use as a building material in UK from the 1950s to the mid-1980s. It’s important to note that any building constructed before the year 2000 can contain asbestos. This includes locations that commonly serve centers for daily activity:

  • Houses
  • Factories
  • Offices
  • Schools
  • Hospitals

According to the most recent regulatory guidelines, existing asbestos-containing materials can be left alone if they aren’t disturbed, damaged or in a high-traffic area where there’s a possibility of damage.

Additionally, in public places like managed flats and governmental structures, buildings constructed with asbestos-containing materials must be monitored according to guidelines set out by the Health and Safety Executive.

Despite the increased governmental oversight, the best way to avoid exposing yourself to asbestos is to know which materials most commonly contain the mineral. These include:

  • Lagging
  • Insulating board
  • Floor tiles
  • Textured coating
  • Asbestos cement products

Which Trades are at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

The most at-risk trades for asbestos exposure in the UK are tradesmen and shipbuilders.

An average of 20 tradesmen die every week from asbestos-related diseases. Specifically, this weekly number includes 4 plumbers, 6 electricians and 8 joiners. The specificity of this statistic highlights the risk these occupations face from asbestos.

The Health and Safety Executive identifies the following trades at risk for asbestos exposure:

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters
  • Electricians
  • Building surveyors
  • Shop and gas fitters

Tradesmen are most at risk of when working on unfamiliar sites constructed before 2000. The best way to lower your risk of exposure is to be knowledgeable about asbestos-containing materials and know how to handle them safely. Most importantly, make sure that your supervisor has made you aware of any asbestos-containing material you might come into contact with on site.

Although asbestos is difficult to identify, there are a number of items on construction sites (and even in homes) that commonly contain asbestos:

  • Asbestos cement products, including boiler and incinerator flues, wall cladding and water tanks.
  • Floor tiles, sealants, gaskets, millboard and fireblankets.
  • Asbestos insulating board, like ceiling tiles, door panels and lift shaft lining.

Shipbuilders are especially vulnerable to asbestos exposure. If you worked in a shipyard before the 1980s, you were put at a very high risk. Any time shipbuilders constructed or demolished a ship, microscopic asbestos fibers could be released into the air, exposing anyone in the vicinity of the shipbuilding activity to the cancer-causing mineral.

Members of the Royal Navy were also put at considerable risk. Asbestos-containing materials could be found in every part of the ship, from the boiler room to sleeping quarters.

The Ministry of Defense reported that Royal Navy personnel showed a considerable increase in the incidence of mesothelioma-related deaths and connected it to increased exposure aboard Navy ships.

Asbestos Regulation in the UK

While the history of asbestos regulation in the UK goes back to the 1980s, the first comprehensive regulation and banning of the dangerous mineral occurred in 2006 with the Control of Asbestos Regulation.

This important legislation consolidated all previous regulations and banned any importation or new usage of asbestos in the UK. It also set minimum exposure limits and required anyone working in high-risk occupations to be trained in safe asbestos removal.

In 2012 the Health and Safety Executive updated asbestos regulations to meet the standards of the European Union. Changes to the Control of Asbestos Regulations mainly addressed non-licensed work with asbestos-containing materials:

  • Non-licensed work with asbestos needs to be reported to the proper regulating authority (HSE, local authorities or the Office of Rail Regulation)
  • Any non-licensed work needs to be recorded in writing. The log should include a list of workers and the level of asbestos exposure they will encounter onsite.
  • Starting April 2015, any worker performing non-licensed work must have regular health check-ups with a doctor.


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4.Ministry of Defence. Synopsis of Caution: Mesothelioma. Retrieved on September 11, 2014 from

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6.Notifiable non-licensed work. Retrieved on September 11, 2014 from