Page last updated at 00:47 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

'Hidden killer' asbestos warning

X-ray of a healthy chest, showing the lungs and heart
The campaign aims to raise awareness of how workers can protect themselves

Tradesmen across Scotland have been targeted by a new national campaign warning them to beware of hidden killer - asbestos.

The Health and Safety Executive said every week across Britain about 20 tradesmen die from asbestos-related diseases and the numbers are rising.

The HSE said plumbers, joiners and electricians were most at risk.

Mesothelioma, caused by breathing in asbestos fibres, claimed 2,617 Scottish men's lives between 1981 and 2005.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the risks posed by asbestos and how workers can best protect themselves.

'Please learn'

John Greig, 78, who lives in Whitburn, worked on railway coaches in Glasgow during the 50s and early 60s, ripping out the asbestos lagging by hand.

Don't be fooled by asbestos, don't be macho. Nothing can make up for your health but you don't realise that when you are young
John Greig
Mesothelioma patient

He was eventually diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the lungs.

He said: "You just can't do what you'd like to do. I can't fly anymore and I am very tired. I loved walking but now my limit is walking 100 yards very slowly.

"You get annoyed at yourself because you can't do what you used to do. But you've got to make light of it. You can't let it get to you."

John warned today's tradesmen: "Asbestos is something you don't see and it took me 40 years before I displayed symptoms and discovered I had mesothelioma. Please learn from my story.

"Don't be fooled by asbestos, don't be macho.

"Nothing can make up for your health but you don't realise that when you are young. Be careful, use the correct equipment and remember the dangers."

Anyone working on a building that was built or refurbished before the year 2000 could be exposed to asbestos without knowing it.

'Industrial killer'

In the UK, about 500,000 non-domestic buildings contain asbestos.

Greg Haywood is the head of HSE's Asbestos Licensing Unit, based in Edinburgh.

He said: "Asbestos is Britain's biggest industrial killer and remains a very real threat to workers in Scotland.

"Contrary to what many people believe, the risks are not a thing of the past. Asbestos-related illnesses claim the lives of 4,000 people every year ? more than die in road accidents.

"The most simple, but important, advice is if you are not 100% certain that there is no asbestos where you are working, then don't start work. It is not worth the risk."

The campaign is being supported by unions, employers' representatives, health charities, sufferers and victims groups.

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