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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 01:56 GMT
Many workers 'asbestos ignorant'
Asbestos removal
Workers should wear protective clothing when removing asbestos
Most tradespeople are unaware of the health risks linked to asbestos, a survey suggests.

The British Lung Foundation said just 12% of the 400 it questioned knew exposure could lead to them developing the incurable lung cancer mesothelioma.

Three-quarters had not had any training on dealing with asbestos and just over 25% thought some levels were safe.

Asbestos was commonly used for insulation and as a fire-retardant in buildings until the mid-1980s.

We want mesothelioma to become a disease of the past, but until people put their health first and protect themselves against asbestos that goal can't be reached
British Lung Foundation

The Health and Safety Executive says any building built or refurbished before 2000 could contain asbestos.

It is currently the main cause of work-related ill-health.

Asbestos poses a risk through its fibres, which can become lodged in the lungs when breathed in.

Tradespeople have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma - 20 die from the disease each week and deaths are continuing to rise.

The cancer develops between 15 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos and the BLF is warning that cases are set to peak between 2011 and 2015.

Site checks

It surveyed builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, joiners and gas fitters and found one in 10 had felt under pressure to continue working even if they suspected asbestos was present.

In addition, nearly a third mistakenly believed all asbestos had now been removed from British buildings.

Just over 25% thought some levels of asbestos were safe, with builders most likely to think there was no risk.

The majority of tradesmen - 81% - said they never, rarely or only sometimes asked if the site they were working on had been checked for asbestos before they started a job - even though it is a legal requirement for them to be informed if it is present.

Dame Helena Shovelton, BLF chief executive, said: "It is a great worry that those most at risk of this cruel cancer know so little about a killer that could be lurking in the building they're working on today.

"We want mesothelioma to become a disease of the past, but until people put their health first and protect themselves against asbestos that goal can't be reached."

'Serious threat'

A spokesman for the Federation of Master Builders agreed there was too little knowledge about the risks.

He said: "The problem is that there is a general misconception, particularly amongst tradesmen and home owners, that asbestos is a thing of the past so there is no need to worry about it.

"Tradesmen need to understand that this is a serious threat that could be present in any job that they go to, and that they need to understand how to identify asbestos, and what to do when they find it."

All those who work in the building industry, or a related trade, are encouraged to go the Health and Safety Executive website for information on working with asbestos.

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